DISCLAIMER: Warehouse 13 and it's characters belongs to Syfy. We're just borrowing them for a while and promise to give them back.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Ladies lovin' ladies ahead… and angst, and action, and well, just read it – we promise you a happy ending. Takes place where 2X12 Reset leaves off, possible spoilers for both seasons. Some liberties taken with certain events, as we don't have actual dates for H.G.'s bronzing etc... Shay, I hope you can forgive me for dragging you into this mess. My obsession with H.G. Wells blinded me, and a need to correct the total mess that was "Reset" kind of made me crazy. I'm not much of a writer so your help in getting this from in my head down on paper is very much appreciated. I'd also like to say a big thanks to darandkerry for being an amazing beta. Your suggestions and punctuation help are invaluable. Jen, you may have dragged me into watching Warehouse 13 kicking and screaming, but I've had more fun working on this story with you than I have in a long time. Your ideas are great; you have a natural ability to kick start my muse and keep her chugging along happily. Should I even bother to mention how good you are at calling me on BS characterizations or reinterpreting the sometimes cornball melodrama that my muse creates? Anyway, I'm glad you got me into this. I would also like to add my thanks to darandkerry, for her spot on beta skills. I hope we didn't kill you with all the missing commas.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To jenvalente709[at]msn.com & shaych3[at]yahoo.com

Belief & Betrayal
By grumpybear & sHaYcH


Chapter 1

"Damn it, Helena, you've ruined everything!" Myka shouted as she pounded her hands against the steering wheel and tried unsuccessfully to stop yet another deluge of tears from falling. Reluctantly, she pulled off the unpaved road when the combination of tears and the glaring light from the setting sun made seeing the road in front of her nearly impossible.

Alone, that was what she was now; everything that she cared about had disappeared in a billowing trail of dust in her rear view mirror. Miles of deserted road and her own thoughts were all she had to look forward to for at least the next hour and a half, and neither of those were exactly good company at the moment. She had no idea where she was going, but she knew she needed to be as far from the warehouse as she could possibly get.

Though her letter had been heartfelt, a part of her felt guilty for only telling her coworkers - her friends - half of her reason for leaving. They would never understand. She had meant it when she said the warehouse was her happiest place, but that was before, before Helena broke her, before everything she'd believed in had been burned into the ash of brutal lies. Now the warehouse was nothing but a cruel reminder of the woman who had so quickly gained her trust and, if she were honest with herself, just as quickly won her heart. She closed her eyes against the onslaught of memories.

The room was dark, illuminated only by the dim glow of the full moon and the refracted lights of the city. Standing on the balcony, looking out across the Giza plateau, Myka felt the weight of all that history push against her body.

"I've always found this all to be rather boring myself," said Helena as she wandered onto the balcony.

In her hand, she held a tumbler half-filled with a smoky amber liquid and, when she lifted it to drink, Myka could smell the distinct scent of aged brandy. Helena leaned against the railing, cocked her head, and flashed a rare, enchanting smile.

"Especially when there are other, far more interesting views to occupy my gaze," she finished her statement with a long pull from the tumbler.

Myka stared at the glass, her brow furrowing in confusion. "A tumbler, really? Didn't they have proper snifters at the bar?"

With a nonchalant shrug, HG replied, "Courvoisier, very private stock. Fresh from gay Paris, circa 1877, I'd say. Though, I'm not completely certain of its provenance, as I wasn't exactly paying attention when I liberated it from the cellar of my home in London. Let's just say I'm improvising."

Outraged, Myka whispered, "You stole something else from the H.G. Wells museum? Helena!"

"What? It is, after all, mine." Pulling a face, Helena sweetly asked, "You wouldn't deny a girl a tiny memento of her dear, departed home, would you?"

Deftly removing the tumbler from Helena's hand, Myka tossed back the contents with a grimace. "No, but I might have a problem with you drinking any more of that stuff." Setting the glass aside, she crossed her arms and said, "You've been quiet all day, Helena. Is something wrong?"

The other woman tensed and took a step back. "No. No, of course not. Everything's peachy. We're in Cairo and it's just perfectly lovely." Each word spoken in a flat tone that was tinged with a ragged despair that even Pete would have sensed, had he been in the room. Then to Myka's surprise, Helena burst into tears.

"Oh bollocks!" Helena spun away, covering her face to muffle the sobs.

Stymied momentarily, Myka toyed with the empty tumbler. "Helena, whatever it is, tell me. Maybe I can help."

Turning back to face Myka, Helena wiped away her tears and shook her head. "No, it's quite all right. I'm fine now. In fact, I think I'll head down to the bar and see if they've got a proper snifter." As she moved to walk past Myka, she was stopped by a gentle touch on her wrist.

"Please, you've asked me to trust you, Helena. I'd like to think you could do the same for me." Myka spoke softly, coaxingly, as she took both of Helena's hands and pulled the other woman closer.

They shared a long moment of silence, punctuated only by the skating of wind on sand and the occasional muffled bit of conversation floating up from the street below.

When no reply was forthcoming, Myka sighed and started to release Helena. "Or you could go and drink yourself into a stupor while I study the warehouse manual. I guess I just thought maybe you'd like a friend or -"

"It's Christina," whispered Helena. "It's always Christina, Myka. She's my first, my last, my breath, my blood, my pain, my love, my heart, and my soul. Not a single moment passes wherein I do not feel the exquisite pain of her loss." She shook her head and smiled wryly. "There, now you know the deep, dark depths of my soul, Myka Bering. Whatever shall you do about it?"

The way that Helena was gazing at her made Myka feel as though she'd just been Tesla'd. Floundering, she opened her mouth to reply, closed it, opened it again, and then bit her lip shyly and said, "I'll treasure it, of course."

"Careful, Agent Bering, I might just begin to wonder if you actually like me." Helena's smile stole the sting from her words. "You do like me, don't you?" Tightening the grasp of their still-joined hands she moved closer to the other woman, breaking all invisible boundaries of personal space.

"H-helena?" Myka tried to step back, but was held fast by the now rock-solid grip on her hands. What had begun as an offer of solace was quickly metamorphosing, twisting out of all recognizable shape and control. "What are you doing?"

"What we both want." Helena's answer was followed so quickly by her action that nothing Myka could have done would have changed its outcome, and now that she was being honest with herself, Myka wouldn't have wanted it to change.

The kiss was soft; almost chaste, but filled with such sweetness that even days later, Myka would swear that she could feel the warmth of Helena's lips pressing against her own.

Whimpering softly, Myka pulled a hand free to cup Helena's cheek, but just as her palm grazed milk-pale skin, the Farnsworth chirped.

Reluctantly pulling apart, Myka whispered, "Duty calls."

"I've always hated those words," Helena replied, but did nothing to stop Myka from heading back into the room.

Jarred out of her memory by the harsh tones of her cell's ringer, Myka shook her head, glanced down at the screen and sighed when she saw Pete's name.

"Not right now, Pete. I just can't do it anymore." With another sigh, she shut the phone off, tossed it into the backseat, and then started off down the road once more.

Less than twenty minutes later, Myka began to notice the signs of a recent accident. Tiny shards of glass glistened where they lay scattered across the pavement and long, dark streaks of tire marks clearly denoted the places where a vehicle had lost control on the curving, twisty section of highway. It was only when she passed a section of roadside that was badly torn up that Myka began to wonder if the accident was even more recent than she'd first assumed.

Ten seconds later, she had her answer when she was hit by a wall of gasoline fumes. Without thinking, she pulled to a stop, jumped out of the car and yelled, "Hello? Is anyone here? Are you hurt?" Moving quickly, Myka jogged to the edge of the embankment. There, a little more than sixty feet below, was the wreckage of a large, dark vehicle. Turned upside down, leaking fuel and other fluids, it appeared that it had suffered a double blow-out of the passenger side tires.

"Oh my god." Myka reached for her phone, only to remember that it was still in the backseat of the SUV. "Damn." Torn between running back to the car to get her phone and investigating the wreckage, the decision was made for her when she spotted the huddled shape of a body resting on the side of the hill.

It took almost five minutes to work herself down to the person, only to discover the man was dead. "Crap." Myka frowned and glanced back up at her car. She should call the police. This wasn't her job. Yet, there was something... thoughts tumbled about in her brain as the past few hours were analyzed and recalled. "Oh fuck." The man lying at her feet was one of the security personnel that had accompanied Adwin Kosan.

"Helena." The word was whispered almost lovingly and then, she snarled. "God damn you to hell, H.G. Wells!"

Spurred by anger and a desire for something - vengeance, answers - Myka wasn't sure which, the agent scrambled the rest of the way down the embankment and into the ravine.

Reaching the car, she now easily recognized it as the vehicle that had carted Helena off to parts unknown. Fuming, fearing that H.G.'s' betrayal had yet to be complete, Myka peered inside, almost certain at what she would discover.

The driver was dead - his body was caught half in, half out of the window, and splatters of blood and viscera painted the ground and fabric of the seats. Sickened, Myka looked into the rear, expecting it to be empty. What she found shocked her, and for an instant, all Myka could do was stare, agog, as her carefully constructed assumptions shattered.

"Fancy meeting you here." Helena gasped, trying to smile even as she gagged on her own blood.


Chapter 2

Helena was trapped upside down, caught in a twisted jumble of seat belt, handcuffs, and the assorted boxes of evidence that had been tossed about when the vehicle had tumbled off the road.

Somehow during the accident, a portion of the belt had become tightly wrapped around her neck, cutting off most of her air. Blood poured sluggishly from a nasty gash on her forehead, coated her lips, and congealed on her blouse.

"Helena?" Myka seemed stuck, unable to move forward or backward as she struggled to figure out if this was some kind of trick. "What happened?" she asked dumbly.

"Well, Darling, I don't really -" H.G. coughed, spitting up a gob of blood, and then gasped heavily. At that point, Myka realized that the unattractive blue tinge to Helena's lips wasn't an exotic lipstick, but was instead the end result of a severe lack of oxygen

"Oh. Oh! Helena!" Pushing the body of the driver into the passenger seat, Myka shoved herself through the broken window, ignoring the tiny twinges of pain where glass cut into her flesh and caught the other woman, lifting her up her enough to alleviate the pressure from the strap that was cutting off Helena's ability to breathe.

Inhaling her first deep breath of air in far too long, Helena whispered, "Thank you."

"Don't thank me yet. I might just decide to let you hang. Now, what happened?" Never had Myka felt such a conflicting state of fear, anger, confusion, and something she really didn't want to acknowledge – desire.

"Would you believe anything I told you right now, anyway? I'm the bad guy, remember?" Helena said bitterly.

Myka grimaced and retorted, "How could I forget?"

"Then you might as well let me hang. I'd rather not sit here and listen to your pathetic recriminations."

Helena's words stung, but Myka couldn't just let her die, even with all that had happened. "Shut up. Just be quiet and let me think."

"What is there to think about, Agent Bering? Let me hang, or call Artie. I'm sure he'll be more than happy to make the decision."

Myka closed her eyes. "Helena, I'm not going to let you hang." She sighed. "Maybe I'm an idiot, but I can't just let you die. Now hold still a moment." Gripping the seat belt, she tried to unwind it from around Helena' s neck, but there wasn't enough slack.

"See, even this wretched vehicle wants you to leave me here," Helena gasped.

Rolling her eyes, Myka said, "Oh please, spare me any more melodramatics. The belt's just stuck – the mechanism probably broke in the stress of the accident. I'm not leaving you here." As she continued to tug and pull on the strap, Myka looked around for some other way of freeing Helena. In the front seat, she spotted the answer on the belt of the dead guard. A leather knife sheath was perched next to a gun holster and a handcuff case. It was, however, some distance away from her, and to reach it, she'd have to relax her grip on Helena. "Hold your breath."


"I have to let you go for a minute, so hold your breath, Helena. Or you can hang there, gasping like a fish out of water. I really don't care!"

With that, Myka released Helena, leaned forward, grabbed the knife, flipped it open and then set to sawing through the heavy duty nylon of the seat belt as quickly as she was able. It took longer than she'd anticipated, however, and by the time she was done, Helena was barely breathing.

There was only one flaw with Myka's plan, and it was immediately evident the moment the last of the nylon parted. With a shriek, Helena collapsed to the roof and, in that instant, Myka realized that the other woman was still handcuffed to the door and that her shoulder was completely dislocated.

"Oh my God, I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry," Myka babbled as she tossed the knife aside and tried to reposition Helena so that her arm wasn't bearing all of her weight. The other woman was nothing but dead weight, though, there was no snappy reply, no telling expression that Helena was famous for as she lay perfectly still, and for a heart-stopping moment, Myka feared that she was actually dead.

"Helena!" she shouted, shaking her slightly. "Oh no, no, no, no, don't you even do this to me, H.G. Wells. You do not get to completely fuck up my life and then die on me."

Myka glared at the woman in her arms. "Come on, you stubborn bitch. You survived being bronzed, surely you can handle a little tumble in a SUV."

Unable to completely control her anger, Myka gave Helena another shake and was just about to deliver a rather stinging slap to the woman's face when she spotted something pale and glittering caught in Helena's blood-matted hair.

"What is that?" With one hand, Myka reached for the object, tenderly brushing away strands of hair to reveal the blood speckled form of a pearl. Helena was not wearing earrings. Neither was she adorned with any kind of necklace, pin, or other form of jewelry that would explain how a stray gem might get caught in her hair. Realization, when it struck, kicked like a mule.

"The Pearl of Wisdom," Myka whispered.


Chapter 3

"Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit." Myka couldn't stop babbling or staring at the pearl. From what Myka knew about the artifact, it would only release from the person it was afflicting when death was imminent. A quick press of her fingers to Helena's throat revealed that her heartbeat was thready but still present.

Too many thoughts, too much information was volcanoing through her mind as she grasped what was, in all probability, a situation more suited for an active agent of Warehouse 13.

"What do I do, what do I do?" Chewing her lip, she glanced around frantically, looking for inspiration, answers, or even the mysterious arrival of Mrs. Fredric.

When none of those manifested, Myka took a deep breath and said, "All right, it's on me. Okay, first of all – the pearl."

Using a slightly tattered tissue she'd pulled from her pocket, Myka picked up the bloody pearl, wrapped it up and stuck it back into her pocket. "Now I need a handcuff key."

It was a bit of a struggle, but Myka was able to lean forward and remove the keys from the ignition. The cuff key was among several others, and after a couple of shaky attempts, she freed Helena. They dropped with a soft thump, causing the Hummer to groan and settle a little deeper into the ravine.

"Okay, next up - getting out of here." Among the debris strewn about the back of the vehicle was a floor mat that was, to Myka's eyes, roughly the size of a small blanket. With Helena still unconscious, there was no way that the other woman would be any assistance in her rescue, so Myka would have to fall back on dimly remembered rescue techniques from the one class she'd had in the early days of her training.

Gently placing Helena's battered arm across her body, Myka inched her way toward the door. Unlocking it, she tried to get it open, but it wouldn't budge. She cursed under her breath and pressed her shoulder against it, shoving and shoving until, finally, it popped slightly. Drawing a slightly ragged breath, Myka gathered her strength and gave one last hard upward shove, forcing the door open.

It was full dark now, and the night was only dimly lit by a waning moon. Crawling out, Myka shook off glass particles and then, fighting off an attack of squeamishness, she leaned back into the vehicle and fumbled around the dead man until she caught hold of his belt. Unclasping it from around his waist, she pulled the canvas strap free, removed his gun and extra ammo, and then returned to Helena. Quickly, she strapped Helena's dislocated arm tightly against the injured woman's body and then rolled her onto the floor mat.

Muttering, "Okay, Miss Tough Stuff, it's time to get your butch on," Myka grabbed hold of the mat and tugged. At first, it didn't budge, but ever so slowly, inch by agonizing inch, it slid, pulling Helena from the wreckage. Reaching the edge of the door, Myka gave one last, desperate heave, and Helena's body tumbled free. A soft groan was only partially muffled by the dirt.

Myka was instantly down on one knee, checking Helena. "Hey, you back among the living?"

"Define, 'living'," Helena muttered groggily. She blinked blearily. "I've really got to speak to someone about the angels around here. They're all far too beautiful." she whispered fading back into unconsciousness with a slight smile on her face.

Myka's heart thumped painfully at the comment. "You are a very dangerous woman, H.G. Wells, bad guy or not."

It took well over half an hour to drag Helena up the embankment, with several stops to rest as well as a few precarious moments where she had to keep the unconscious woman from rolling off the mat and tumbling back down the hill.

Dripping with sweat, aching in more muscles than she knew existed, Myka staggered over to her car, opened the backseat and was brought up short by the sight of her cell phone. Logic told her to pick it up, turn it on and call Artie. This was a warehouse issue and should be handled by warehouse personnel. However, a teeny, tiny voice - one that sort of sounded like Pete, actually - said, "Wait, stop, don't do that! Remember the Pearl!" Stopping with her hand halfway to the phone, Myka pulled back and settled her fist against her lips.

The "voice" had a point. It had more than a point. After the incident with MacPherson using the Pearl to control Leena, Myka had spent a lot of time studying what was known about the artifact, and what little she had discovered was not good.

Someone had basically turned H.G. Wells into their personal slave. For what purpose, Myka could not say - but one thing was clear - it had to have happened after the Pearl had been removed from Leena, which meant - "I can't trust anyone."

Calling Artie, Pete, or even Claudia was not an option. Nor could she pick up the phone and call the police, because there would be far too many questions she couldn't answer. No, right now, Myka and Helena were well and truly on their own.

Getting Helena into the car was something about which Myka would someday tell many hilarious stories, but in those twenty minutes of hellish struggle, the agent swore a blue streak in at least three different languages while wrestling with Helena's uncooperative body. Eventually, with a heave, a push, and an ungraceful shove, Myka got Helena into the backseat of her SUV.

As she flopped into the driver's seat, the agent wiped her face and said, "I need a vacation."


Chapter 4

They pulled into a truck stop at just a little after eleven. The place had been a beacon of light at the end of their road for at least twenty miles, and Myka had driven toward it with a measure of determination that was only seconded by her need to know every single minute detail of what the fuck was going on.

It had been a mostly silent journey, broken only by brief, intermittent sounds of music from the car's radio. For about an hour, Myka had tried to find a station that wasn't talk, country, or bubblegum pop; however, she'd been unsuccessful, and finally, had given up and endured the silence. Helena was completely unconscious, not even twitching when the road grew less than smooth. Every jerk and bump made Myka fret, though. It wasn't in her nature to wish ill of people - even those who most probably deserved it.

The truck stop was a traveler's haven. Not only did it have the requisite greasy spoon, gas station, and weigh station, it also had a small motel, an all night convenience store, and a bar. The fact that the bar advertised, "Live! Nude! Girls!" in big, giant red flashing neon did nothing to detract from the fact that Myka was sorely tempted to walk in and order a Johnny Walker on the rocks. She didn't, of course. That would be irresponsible, and no matter how far off her private reservation Myka was willing to go, that was just not a destination of choice for the staid, upright, detail oriented agent.

Signing in under an assumed name was almost normal. Hauling the still comatose woman from the backseat of her car was not. Feeling distinctly like a sore thumb, Myka tried to hurry, but for every step forward she took, Helena's weight hauled her back at least a foot. It was deeply frustrating, and more than once, Myka almost dropped the other woman onto the blacktop and left her there, hotel key in one hand and the half empty bottle of Advil from the glove compartment in the other. Then she realized that she needed that Advil way too much to sacrifice it on the altar of H.G. Wells' machinations.

To Myka's great relief, she finally made it into the room. Letting Helena fall to the bed, Myka then collapsed into a chair that creaked ominously.

"Oh no, don't you even think about going all Baby Bear on me." Enforcing her words with a glare shot down at the arm of the chair, she smiled when the creaking subsided, leaving her in the kind of silence present at most no-tell motels across the country. That was to say, no silence at all. Next door, there was a wild party that had to include strippers from the amount of hooting and hollering going on, and two doors the other direction, the distinct scent of marijuana crept along the walkway, tempting Myka with the painkilling possibilities of the narcotic.

"Bu' I'm not s'eepin' in your bed, love." Helena patted the mattress aimlessly. "'Less o'course you've decided to import the stench of a thousand rent boys in as an aromatic?"

Myka counted to ten, twice. Just as she was about to speak, however, Helena said, "Oh God, I think I'm going to be sick."

In an instant, Myka was up and dragging a garbage can over to the bed. Grabbing hold of the waistband of Helena's pants, she tugged the other woman to the right edge of the bed.

"Come on, Helena, I know it hurts but work with me here! You are not going to puke all over the only bed in this godforsaken room!"

"Easy for you to say, you don't have the 1812 Overture going off in your head," Helena groaned weakly.

Then there were no words at all as the meager contents of her stomach spattered the bottom of the garbage can. When she was finished, she rolled on to her back, mewling softly in pain.

Though she didn't want to, Myka forced herself to glance down into the trashcan. She was greeted with the sight of yellowish, red flecked liquid and a stench that could fell a horse at twenty paces. Swallowing heavily, the agent quickly looked away, and then as the import of what she'd seen set in, panic started to wash over her.

"Oh no, oh no, this is not good. Not good at all. Blood should definitely not be in vomit. Oh God, what do I do? I should call 911. You need a doctor. What do I do?" Myka babbled on and on as she glanced from Helena, to the trash can, to the bedside telephone.

"You could start by getting me a drink," Helena interjected softly.

"Oh, of course! A drink, to rinse out your mouth. Right. Maybe it's not really in the vomit, right? Maybe you bit your tongue, or, or -" Myka continued to babble as she stumbled toward the vanity.

"Agent Bering, it's very likely that I'll be just fine to face whatever is going to occur in the next few minutes. After all, if I'm not dead yet, it's not likely to happen in the time it'll take you to get a glass of water."

Helena's words actually served to calm Myka down enough so that she could retrieve the water. Once back at Helena's side, she gingerly sat on the bed and then assisted the other woman as she took slow, careful sips.

"I'm sure this might seem a bit unusual, given that I've just been quite sick, but I'm famished. Would you happen to have one of those fruit and grain confections of which young Claudia is so fond?"

Myka frowned for a second and then said, "A cereal bar? No, but there's a store nearby. I'm sure I could find something." She suddenly brightened. "I bet they'll even have Twizzlers!"

Making tiny shooing motions, Helena gestured toward the door and said, "Please, do go. Run along. I assure you that I am quite capable of lying here in agony all by myself. I'm a thoroughly grown woman and pain is an old, old friend."

Myka was halfway to the door before she remembered that H.G. was supposed to be the bad guy. Stopping, she spun around and said, "Oh no you don't. You're not going to fool me that easily, H.G.. You might have gotten away once, and there's the whole Pearl of Wisdom thing, but I'm still not ready to buy the idea that you're blameless in this whole situation."

"Since I am almost certain I know nothing of which you are speaking, I do request that you stop talking in riddles, Myka. You know, maybe it would be a very good idea for you to call someone. I'm sure Artie or Pete could explain things quite nicely right now."

Helena had always wondered what a poleaxed cow would look like, and now, she actually had some idea. Myka was literally staring at her like she'd just run smack dab into an invisible wall. Her mouth was open, her eyes wildly glancing about, and her hands were shaking back and forth as though she were trying to fling off some extremely disgusting form of excrement. It was when the agent followed it up by hopping and pacing about the room like a rabbit on amphetamines that Helena began to worry.

"Myka? Are you quite all right? Did you hit your head, too?" Utterly perplexed at the other agent's behavior, Helena tried to sit up and was overcome with a wave of pain from her dislocated shoulder.

Myka didn't even seem to notice. Now she was muttering, but the words were too soft for Helena to hear.

"Oh bollocks!" Helena grimaced, swung her legs around, and forced her body to obey the command to sit. It took a moment, but she was finally able to achieve a state of uprightness. "Myka!" she shouted, waving her free arm in front of the wildly pacing woman. "Could you please sit down and tell me what the devil is going on?"

Pulled up short by the shout, Myka stopped, glared at Helena, and said, "If you are playing me again, so help me, I'll bronze you myself!"

"Myka, I assure you, I have no idea to what you are referring." She sighed and rubbed her temple, dislodging a chunk of dried blood. "Look, we are both tired, and at least one of us is very sore, hungry, and in dire need of a shot of something strong. Please, would you go to the store and secure provisions? I promise that I will wait here for you and listen to whatever explanations you care to deliver for this situation, as you call it."

Myka spent a long moment just staring at Helena. Finally, she sighed and said, "Fine. You're in no condition to run anyway. However, let me just make absolutely sure of that." Deftly, she ripped the cord from the phone and tossed it across the room. Then, she whipped out a pair of handcuffs. Before Helena could say anything, Myka had cuffed her good arm to the headboard. "There. Now I know you'll be here when I get back. If I come back. You never know. I might just decide this really is Artie's problem after all and leave you to face him alone." Turning on her heel, she headed for the door.

After Myka left, Helena whispered, "Now why did that feel like a real threat?" Closing her eyes, she let her head flop back onto the pillow and tried to recall anything that might explain Myka's abrupt change of opinion about her. Nothing came to her, leaving her to wonder if the closeness they'd enjoyed that night in Cairo was just an illusion. Forcing past the pain wracking her body, Helena employed a meditation technique to steady and focus her thoughts. Slowly, bit by scattered bit, fragments of memory coalesced and formed, painting a grim picture of the events of the last few days.

"Oh bloody hell," she whispered as the implications of those memories washed over her, leaving her feeling like she'd lost the only thing tethering her to this time period. Without the warehouse and the friends she had made, there was very little about the modern world Helena cared to experience.


Chapter 5

Myka had only been gone about a half an hour, but the moment she walked back in the room, she knew something had changed. Where before Helena had almost seemed normal, now there was an aura of bleakness that had settled about the injured woman's form.

Standing in the doorway, Myka felt the despair that rolled off Helena in waves. "Helena?" she whispered, afraid that something terrible had happened.

"I could have killed you." The only other time Myka had heard that kind of pain etching Helena's words was when she'd spoken of her daughter, Christina.

Bypassing everything she could have said, Myka dropped her bags, moved to Helena's side and took her cuffed hand in hers. "But you didn't. I still don't know why, but you didn't." The events of the past few days were etched firmly in Myka's memory, and the moment where she'd stood, facing down a grief-stricken Helena as she threatened to end the world with a trident's strike, was only a pale second to the heart-stopping kiss they'd shared in Cairo.

Helena looked away. "I don't know why I didn't, either." Self-loathing was a new twist to her voice. "I don't recall why, but I know that it was terribly important for me to use the Trident."

"I think, maybe, it has something to do with the Pearl of Wisdom," said Myka softly. She was biting her lip. "It - I think it fell out of your ear, back at the wreck."

Nodding slowly, Helena sighed. "That would make sense. I'm very sorry. I do recall a lot, but it's in many pieces, like a pile of Tinker Toys that have been scattered by rambunctious children. I've recalled much of the last day or so, but before that, I'm missing rather large chunks. "

"But you remember the Minoan Trident, and threatening to start another ice age?"

Helena nodded slowly. "It wasn't my plan. Somehow, he got wind that I'd hidden a piece to the Trident, and he convinced me that he could use it to change the world. Of course, after I was brought back to the warehouse, I immediately turned over the plans to the Regents. It was never my desire to see the world end."

It took Myka a moment to absorb everything. "All right, if it wasn't your plan, then whose was it?" She held up a hand and then said, "No, wait, forget I said that. It was MacPherson's right? Is he still alive then? Did someone find an artifact and bring that scumbag back to life?" Groaning, Myka covered her face and said, "This isn't supposed to be my problem anymore."

"What do you mean it's not your problem? You're an agent of the warehouse, of course it's your problem. It's my problem, too!"

"No, actually, it's not. For either of us. You, because of your actions in nearly destroying the world, and me, well, because I'm no longer a warehouse agent."

"Not an agent? But Myka, you love your job! You're one of the best." Helena's utterly perplexed look was only eclipsed by the sudden wash of guilt that caused her to gasp. "Oh no. Oh bloody hell, no. What the hell did they do to me?"

Two and two had never added up to four so quickly for Helena. In a moment of crystalline clarity, she'd realized that someone on the Council of Regents had betrayed not only her, but Warehouse 13 as well. "I never should have given them that bloody map!"

Myka's brow furrowed. "What map?"

"The map to Warehouse 2. I turned it over to the Regents so that they could retrieve the artifacts. I wanted to prove my loyalty, you see. And someone bloody well used it to turn me into a monster!" Equal parts aggrieved and guilt-ridden, Helena could barely look at Myka. "And I'll just bet you quit because of what I did, didn't you?" This was said so softly that Myka had to strain to hear it.

Myka's stomach roiled, her emotions in turmoil. She wanted - badly - to believe that the other woman was speaking the truth, that she had not betrayed the warehouse, that she had not thrown away that moment in Cairo for some grandiose scheme, but the one thing Myka lacked was a good gut instinct. That was Pete's bailiwick, and unfortunately, he was as good as on the moon, for all the distance that was currently between them.

"Just go, Myka. Leave me here. I deserve whatever comes. You shouldn't have to deal with this. Go home - go back to your life, whatever life it is you choose. Just please, don't blame yourself. This is my fault, so go ahead and hate me; I can take it." She smiled, a weak, winsome grin that was heartbreaking in its solemn nature.

Myka was sorely tempted to take Helena up on her offer. Just walk away and never look back. It would be so easy - too easy - to just text Pete the whereabouts of the "fugitive" H.G. Wells and then go on her merry way, never again to stand beside her friends against the chaos that artifacts could unleash upon the world.

She closed her eyes and tried to imagine the scenario. How it would feel to stand up, to gather her things and just walk right out the door, leaving Helena to whatever fate Artie and the Regents might dream up for her. Imagination might never have been her strong point, but the image Myka conjured was powerful enough to make her stomach clench and her heart twist in pain. God, what a coward she was. How could she just walk way and leave them to face whoever had decided to wreak havoc upon the warehouse this time? Most of the time, they barely had a chance of success at the easy jobs – now they were possibly up against a rogue regent and Myka was actually considering letting them do it without her? Above and beyond that, how could she walk away from the one person who had, in a single instant in Cairo, set her world on fire and turned it right side up for the first time in her entire life?

Myka's eyes opened to the sight of Helena huddled into a ball, silent tears carving wet tracks on her cheeks. Leaning forward, Myka quickly undid the cuffs and said, "You're going to have to get used to me, Helena. I'm not going anywhere."


Chapter 6

They were gathered at Leena's, holding a wake of sorts. Arrayed around a table full of comfort food, Artie, Pete, Claudia and Leena stared gloomily at the bounty, yet touched none of it. Pete sighed, for what was probably the umpteenth time.

"I don't get it, man." He lifted an arm and sniffed deeply. "I don't smell, I shave regularly, and you know, I'm pretty damned good looking. So tell me this: how could I have just gotten dumped by not one, but two fantastic women in one day?"

Fed up with Pete's constant whining, Claudia shot the agent a look of pure disgust. "Dude, give it a rest, would ya? Some of us might actually be hungry."

"What? I'm just saying, they dumped me. Me! I'm Pete - everybody loves me."

Leaping to her feet, Claudia growled, "You know what? That's fine, you go enjoy your pity party, Pete! Just remember you aren't the only one who lost someone today." Shooting a glare caustic enough to melt Prometheus' chains, she stormed off in a huff.

Holding up both hands to signal his defeat, Pete murmured, "Whoa, sorry Claude,"

Something in his tone must have sounded less than sincere to Leena, and she also stood to leave. Pausing only to give Pete a look of pure exasperation, she said, "You know I think I'm gonna help Claudia do... whatever. Artie, if you need anything, you know where to find me."

"And that's four for today; that must be some kind of record." Artie said with a sigh. "You know, Pete, sometimes it's not all about you."

Upstairs, in Claudia's room, Leena hovered near the doorway, watching silently as the young hacker stared at a silent phone. Claudia sighed. "It rings and rings, and just goes to voice mail. It's not even turned on. I checked. She's gone, Leena. She's really gone. Off the grid." Turning, a single tear trickling down her face, Claudia whispered, "Why does everyone I love leave me?"

The pop and grind of bones loudly slipping into place was immediately followed by a shriek that Helena tried unsuccessfully to muffle. Myka had not allowed her to wallow in guilt for long, insisting that they treat Helena's injuries before the pain became so bad that they would have no choice but to go to a hospital or risk permanent damage.

"Good God, Helena! Could you be any louder? The people next door are going to think we're having kinky sex!" Myka hissed through clenched teeth.

"Oh trust me, sweetheart, if you and I have kinky sex, more than just the next room will know it," retorted Helena, following up her promise with a particularly loud groan.

Myka grinned. This was exactly the banter she'd come to expect and - almost - crave from H.G. Wells.

"Promises, promises," she said flirtatiously as she piled folded towels under Helena's injured arm. They'd already cleaned the wound on Helena's forehead, revealing a nasty gash that would shortly require stitches, as well as bound several bruised ribs with two Ace wraps Myka had purchased from the convenient store that had seemed to have everything under the sun.

"Myka." Helena was suddenly very serious.


"Thank you." Helena's eyes drifted closed. "I don't deserve this, but thank you. I'm not sure I said that enough before."

There was so much Myka could say, but instead, she reached out and covered Helena's good hand, giving it a gentle squeeze.

"It's all right. Actually, it's me who should be apologizing right now." She smiled sadly. "All this time, you've been in terrible pain and here I've been foolishly worried, worried you were some crazy, evil, wanting to destroy the world megalomaniac, when you couldn't have taken over a flea, much less the rest of the world." With each word, Myka's grip loosened until she was barely touching Helena, her fingers lightly grazing the back of Helena's hand in tiny, random patterns.

It had been truly shocking, for both women, to observe the amount of damage done to Helena's torso during the wreck. Abrasions from the seat belt covered her from abdomen to throat, leaving behind incredibly painful looking red and purple welts. Though neither would know exactly what had happened during the accident, both knew that Helena was lucky to be alive.

"Oh, of course, it's so much better that I was a mind-controlled patsy, forced to obey a master I cannot remember, in order to betray everyone I care about!" Grief-stricken, Helena turned her gaze toward the wall and whispered, "Four innocent people died because of me, Myka, and that's something I'll have to live with for the rest of my life."

"It's not -"

Angry now, Helena hissed, "Don't you dare tell me it's not my fault, Agent Bering. I'm quite capable of extrapolating answers from a stated set of clues. It was my map that led those young men to Warehouse 2, and because of that, Mr. Valda sacrificed himself to get us past the second challenge."

Guilt was a familiar emotion for Helena; grief and guilt had been such a part of her life for so long, that it was easy for her to slip into the rituals of loathing and self-flagellation. Right now though, she needed to let those feelings out, to use the power of her emotions to fuel her anger at the mysterious person or persons who had so upended her life.

One moment, it looked as though she might be finally setting her feet on a path that would make her daughter proud, standing at the side of a woman that she knew - knew to the very bottom of her soul - that Christina would have adored - and now, now it was gone. Shattered, like so much bad glass. Helena knew that no matter what Myka said or did, there would always be some part of her that she held back, kept apart and secret, because their bond of trust had been broken beyond repair, and that knowledge was seeping into her pores, poisoning and stinging, leaving behind a numb, dead shell.

A strained silence stretched between them. After several minutes, Myka said, "I need to take care of that laceration on your forehead." She wanted to address the distant, broken gaze that had settled in Helena's eyes, but what could she say? There was a bitter truth in Helena's words that made it impossible for her to deny the other woman her self pity. All she could do was work quietly and hope that she wasn't watching a good friendship wither away to nothing.

The injury required a total of seven stitches, including one that skirted perilously close to Helena's hairline. Remaining stoically silent throughout the ordeal, she murmured a terse, "Thank you," after Myka tied off the last stitch.

With nothing left to do, Myka settled back in the chair and stared at the ancient television perched on the dresser at the foot of the bed. She considered getting up to turn it on – there had to be something distracting on at this hour, but she recoiled at the thought of intruding on Helena's private turmoil. Instead, she let her thoughts drift away, becoming preoccupied with planning her next move. After all, she did still have to figure out what she was going to do with the other woman.

The sudden churning rumble of Helena's stomach slashed through the melancholy silence of the room.

"Oh my God, I totally forgot!" said Myka as she reached for another bag. "I got you a sandwich. I figured it was a bit more substantial than a cereal bar. I hope you like egg salad. It was either that, or green tuna fish, and not even Pete's adventurous enough to eat that."

Fitting words to action, she presented the other woman with a triangular, cellophane wrapped box. "Here. Just um, tear it open and -"

"Thank you, I've eaten sandwiches before," Helena said dryly. "They were quite popular, even when I was but a wee lass."

Blushing, Myka reached for a package of her favorite treat - Twizzlers. "Sorry," she muttered around the wrapper as she used her teeth to tear into the package. "I just -"

"Forgot that I have more intelligence than your average woman out of time?" said Helena archly. She took a delicate bite of her sandwich, chewed thoughtfully and then swallowed. "Interesting. Palatable in its own, charming way."

"Sorry it's not a five star meal. Maybe tomorrow we'll get breakfast from the greasy spoon across the street" Myka absently nodded in the direction of the diner she'd seen on her way into the motel parking lot.

Helena blanched. "Oh, no, thank you. Truthfully, I prefer to dine with clean spoons. You don't have to go to all the trouble of obtaining a greasy one." She smiled sweetly. "Really, it's not that important. I'll be happy to eat a cereal bar, if that will make things easier?"

Trying very hard not to laugh, Myka licked her lips and said, "Helena? A greasy spoon is just a nickname for the kind of restaurant that's known for serving simple things like eggs, bacon, pancakes, and hamburgers."

As understanding dawned, Helena decided to get a bit of revenge. Innocently, she said, "All at once? Oh, I don't think I'll be that hungry." Her lips curved into a generous smile. "However, we could share. I'll take the hamburger - you can have the rest."

"And how do you want your slab of meat cooked? Rare, medium, or well done?"

"Kill it, stick a fork in it, make sure it's not moving around on the plate, and by all means, drown it in ketchup. Heinz ketchup, if they have it. Remarkably, it still tastes like I remember it."

Making a big show of pulling out a notebook, Myka quickly jotted the information down and said, "Breakfast order so noted."

"Stupendous." The statement was followed by a yawn. "Perhaps I shall attempt getting some sleep that isn't prefaced by a solid knock to the head."

Earlier, they'd discussed some of what had happened. Combined with her own observations at the crash site, Myka now had a vague idea of how the vehicle carrying the infamous H. G. Wells had come to be stuck upside down in a ditch by the side of the road, but she needed to know more. After all, something had to have caused both passenger tires to look like they'd been run through an industrial cheese grater.

"Are you sure? I have some more questions about the accident -"

"Myka, tomorrow, I promise, I shall answer each and every one of your questions to the fullest of my ability, but right now, I simply must sleep." Yawns punctuated nearly every word Helena spoke.

The more Helena yawned, the sleepier Myka felt. Finally, she could no longer fight off the exhaustion settling into her bones. With a massive yawn, she said, "All right, all right. Tomorrow. Here, pass me that other blanket, will you?"

"Whatever for?" Helena looked honestly surprised by the request.

"So I can wrap it around myself and keep warm." The "duh" was not added, but heard nonetheless.

"But Myka, there's a perfectly serviceable bed right here. I promise I don't kick. Nasty, disgusting habit that. I made a point of training that particular trait out of all my lovers," said Helena sleepily.

"You what?" Myka coughed as several images, some of them even relatively clean, flashed through her mind. Shaking her head, Myka said, "Wait, never mind. I've definitely watched too much Legend of the Seeker with Claudia. Just, go to sleep, Helena. I'll be fine in the chair."

"Well, if you change your mind, the offer still stands."

Myka was almost certain she detected a note of – Disappointment? Why would she be unhappy to have the bed to herself? - in Helena's murmured statement.

Myka struggled awake. It was the middle of the night and Nature was knocking with the fist of a thousand cups of tea. Staggering to the bathroom, she relieved herself and then limped back to the chair. Longingly, she gazed at the empty side of the bed. It was an awfully inviting sight, especially after three hours of pure hell sleeping in a chair that must have been designed by Torquemada.

Helena slept, blissfully unaware of their surroundings. Haloed in the soft amber light of the motel's neon sign, the woman was astoundingly beautiful, and Myka felt her breath catch more than once as she drank in the almost unreal vision of the sleeping fugitive. She looks so fragile; like I could break her with a careless touch.

Perhaps it was because of this careful scrutiny that Myka first noticed the tiny, almost imperceptible shivers that were raking Helena from head to toe. Or perhaps it was just the agent's natural affinity for detailed observation; either way, now that she'd seen them, there was no way Myka could ignore the fact that Helena was freezing.

Gently, she reached out and brushed her fingertips over Helena's brow. Fever raged through the other woman's body. "Ah, crap." Without a thermometer to gauge how high it was, Myka reverted to using her mother's proven method of fever detection. Slowly, she pressed her lips to Helena's forehead, careful to avoid the angry red line of stitches. After a few seconds of contact, she pulled back, relieved that the heat pouring off Helena was less than she'd initially feared. However, it was enough to make the other woman utterly miserable.

Now what do I do? Myka twirled a lock of her hair as she wrestled with her options. Her body was begging for one thing, her mind another, and somewhere in between, Myka's heart finally jumped in and made the decision for her. Carefully, she crawled into the bed, making certain not to jostle Helena's injured left shoulder as she settled next to her. Adding her blanket, as well as her own body's warmth to the cocoon of covers around Helena, Myka drifted off to sleep.


Chapter 7

The warehouse was the perfect place to brood. Its immense size created a dark, shadowed atmosphere that Claudia found almost soothing. Perched on the edge of a chair, fingers gliding rapidly over the keyboard of her computer, the young woman stared fixedly at the screen. With everyone else seemingly content to let Myka just walk away, Claudia felt as though she was the only one who really cared. Myka's letter wasn't goodbye. There was no way that Claudia could accept that. It just wasn't going to happen. No, it was a cry for help; a big, honking shout that said, "Hey guys, I'm really messed up about this and I don't know how to tell you."

Having been messed up a time or two over some pretty whacked-out stuff, Claudia felt she was the only one to truly understand. It was so totally obvious to her that Myka was hurting - and it wasn't just because her "professional" pride had been piqued, like the letter indicated. No, this went deeper, into the realms of emotions that were definitely friendlier than "just friends".

"And hey, that's no skin off my nose, right?" Claudia muttered to herself as her overactive imagination began to conjure up images of Myka and H.G. behaving in a "friendlier than friendship" fashion.

Yep, if Claudia were a betting woman, she'd gladly put the nine dollars and sixteen cents in her left pocket on the bright red square marked, "I just got my heart broke," as the reason for Myka's sudden departure.

"Silly woman. Don't you know that's what I'm here for? You can trust me, I'm Super Claudia. Friend to all broken hearts, lost puppies, and bringers of awesome coffee drinks."

So now, here she was, hunched over the warehouse's super-duper computer, trying to get a ping location on Myka's cell. If the mountain wouldn't come to Claudia, then Claudia was quite prepared to hunt the mountain down and drag her back to Leena's for a good, long chat that would hopefully include tears, popcorn, and the restoration of her family unit.

"And Twizzlers. Can't forget those. Although, I really prefer Starburst for a chewy fruity snack, but hey, this is all about Myka, not me. Twizzlers it is!"

Just as yet another negative result was displayed, the distinctive chime of the Farnsworth interrupted her thought process.

Startled, Claudia pushed away from the keyboard and then scrambled to grab the device perched precariously on the edge of the desk. "Yo, Ar- oh, hey, Mrs. F, what's up?"

"Adwin Kosan has just contacted me. Apparently, the security team that was escorting H.G. Wells has not arrived at their destination. I need you and Agent Lattimer to look into it."

Not wanting to have to step into Myka's shoes so soon, Claudia faked a yawn and said, "Now? Can't it wait 'til morning? I'm kinda tired."

"Now, Miss Donovan. The regents - and I - consider this to be of the utmost importance."

Grumbling softly, Claudia replied, "All right, all right, don't get your panties in a twist. I'm going already." Grabbing an assortment of gear, Claudia listened absently as Mrs. Fredric spoke.

"I assure you, Miss Donovan, that my undergarments are perfectly in order. I'm sending the last GPS information we have for the escort vehicle to your cell phone. Contact me as soon as you know anything."

"Hey, wait, Mrs. F?"

"Yes, Miss Donovan?"

"Why me? I mean, why call me instead of Pete or Artie? Don't they like, have seniority or something?"

The tiniest indication of a smile tweaked the corners of the formidable woman's face. "You are more than capable of leading this task, Miss Donovan, but the truth is – I knew you were awake. I am disinclined to disturb Arthur's rest and Agent Lattimer is notoriously difficult to rouse. Now, if there's nothing else, I must attend to another matter of grave importance."

Feeling ten stories tall, Claudia saluted the image in the Farnsworth and said, "Right-O, Mrs. F. Donovan out."

With one last glance around the room, Claudia raced to the door. She had a mission and, at least for a little while, she was in charge.

If there was one thing Claudia loved about being in charge, it was the fact that she had almost official permission to be utterly diabolical in designing an effective way to wake up Pete. On the drive back to Leena's, she'd imagined and discarded a number of plans and had finally settled on the one she was about to unleash.

First, she started by creeping into his room, making certain to skirt the creaky board by the foot of the bed. Next, she carefully pushed back the covers, revealing one of Pete's bare feet. From behind her back, she extended her hand. Delicately held between thumb and forefinger, a long, slender feather just barely brushed the arch of the sleeping man's foot.

"Pete," she drawled softly. "Wake up," she crooned as she drew the feather up and down his foot.

At first, he only twitched, but as she continued to stroke the feather back and forth, he came suddenly awake, jerking his foot back under the covers.

Claudia grinned. Now for the second phase of her plan.

"Oh good, you're awake," she said, grinning mischievously. "Here, catch." Something small and furry went flying at Pete.

Whatever it was landed and immediately scurried under the covers. Pete shrieked, leaped from the bed and raced over to the wall. "What the hell was that?"

Claudia smirked. "Aww, what's the matter, don't you recognize little No-name? He's crushed." Making clicking noises and patting the bed, Claudia retrieved Myka's pet ferret.

Visibly relaxing, Pete chuckled and shook his head. "She still hasn't named that thing? Jeeze, detail-oriented, my butt."

Claudia shrugged. When she'd found Little Pete's cage in her room earlier, Claudia had known that Myka hadn't really wanted to leave. There was no way she'd abandon the animal for which she felt so responsible. So, even though Myka was supposedly gone, there was no way that Claudia was going to blow the secret of the ferret's true name. Besides, it would only inflate Pete's already oversized ego to know that Myka had named her pet after him.

"I guess she's been too busy to choose one. Anyway, Mrs. F called. We've got a mission." Bouncing to her feet, she said, "Get dressed, secret agent man, we're on the road and I'm in charge!"

"What? No way! I've got way more seniority than you!" Pete shouted as he started pulling out clothes. "I should totally be in charge!"

"You snooze, you lose buddy. Mrs. F said I'm the boss, so chop-chop. And don't make me look bad. Make sure your socks match!"

Arriving at the location of the last GPS transmission sometime around one-thirty in the morning, Pete and Claudia both stared at the empty highway in confusion.

"So, what do we call this one? You think someone figured out how to make the Bermuda Triangle portable?" said Pete.

The road was deserted. There was nothing to indicate that the transport vehicle was anywhere in the vicinity. It was so quiet, they could hear the sounds of nocturnal animals as they hunted for food, and so dark that the black above was awash in a blanket of stars.

Claudia rolled her eyes, opened her door and said, "Or we could you know, get out and look around? Maybe spot some honest-to-goodness clues?"

"Oh. Right." Pete opened his door and joined Claudia. "Sorry. I think I left my brain somewhere back in Egypt."

Claudia patted his shoulder. "It's okay. Half-a-brain you is still better than most-of-a-brain regular guys."

"Aw, gee, thanks." From the inner pocket of his jacket, he drew out a flashlight. The thin beam picked out odd bits of broken glass, random pieces of trash, and the glow of a skunk's eyes. "Whoa, let's just let the nice little black and white kitty go about its business, shall we?"

Both Pete and Claudia backed away slowly, waiting for the skunk to cross the road.

"Hey, look over there," said Claudia suddenly.

Pete turned, joining the beam of his flashlight with Claudia's and illuminated a section of the roadside that looked as though it had been torn apart by a particularly large, willful child.

"Well, well, what have we here?" said Pete as he slowly approached the area. Drawing the Tesla from his waist, he readied it and said, "Stay behind me, okay?"

"Okie dokie."

Carefully, they made their way to the edge of the ravine, following a trail of broken glass, slabs of rubber, and chunks of metal.

"Oh, this doesn't look at all good," said Claudia softly.

"No, it doesn't," replied Pete tersely. Below them, they could just make out the overturned Hummer.

"Maybe you should stay up here, Claudia." Something about the situation was giving him a seriously bad vibe.

As much as she wanted to agree with him, Claudia was determined to fulfill her role as his stand-in partner. "No, I'm going with you. Lead the way. Just, you know, go slowly?"

For a moment, it looked like Pete might argue, but then, he nodded. "Okay, let's go."

Together, they made their way downhill, stopping to help each other over the rough patches. About halfway down, they stumbled over the body of the first guard.

"Oh gross," said Claudia as Pete turned the man over and checked for signs of life.

He was obviously dead. Insects had already begun to cluster about his eyes and nostrils. The cause of death was fairly obvious, too – a large contusion covered one side of his face, and the unnatural way his head lolled about when Pete moved him indicated a broken neck.

Sadly, Pete said, "Damn, that had to hurt."

A brief rifle through the dead man's pockets produced his ID, a sidearm, extra ammunition, and a broken cell phone.

There was over two hundred dollars in cash in the man's wallet. His ID named him as Agent Jason Matthews. Tucked behind the ID was a picture of the man with his family. The agent was dressed in the uniform of a marine. The "something's not right" feeling got ten times worse. Pete's demeanor instantly shifted.

"Claudia, I need you to go back up top, get in the car, and call Mrs. Fredric."

"What are you going to do?" The longer she stood staring at the hollow, lifeless eyes of the dead man, the less Claudia was inclined to fight for the title of "The One in Charge".

"I'm going down there," said Pete solemnly, as he indicated the wreckage with the beam of his flashlight.

Claudia swallowed audibly. Her overactive imagination was supplying her with far too many visions of what might await them in the overturned vehicle. The tamest had something to do with snakes, spiders, and angry scorpions. "Okay. Good, yeah, you do that. I'll just, um, go and call Mrs. Fredric."

The severity of the situation hit Claudia right about the time she climbed back into Pete's car. She had just seen a dead body. "Oh my god." Nausea made her shove the door back open and for a good five minutes, she sat hunched over, gagging and retching. "Oh God, oh God, this is so not good."

With shaking hands, she fumbled the Farnsworth out and called Mrs. Fredric. The Patrician features of the elegant older black woman appeared immediately.

"Miss Donovan. Do you have anything to report?"

"I-I do," Claudia stammered, and then had to cover her mouth and fight off another wave of nausea. "Sorry. Um, there's a dead guy, and it was gross, and -"

"Yes, yes, thank you, Miss Donovan. Can you please tell me the status of H.G. Wells?"

"Um -" Claudia bit her lip. "I didn't get that far?"

"I see. And Agent Lattimer, where is he?"

"Checking out the wreck. Oh! The Hummer's a total loss, dude. Better call your insurance guys so you can get another one."

"I'm sure the vehicle's replacement will be properly handled, Miss Donovan. Contact me when you have something fur-" The woman was cut off by the tune, "Secret Agent Man".

"Oh, hang on, that's Pete now," interjected Claudia. She grabbed her phone and immediately put it on speaker.

"Hey, I've got Mrs. F here, so you can give her the facts straight up."

"Okay, well, it's a mess down here. There's a lot of blood, and both agents are dead. I can't find H.G., though. She's gone. The seat-belt has been cut and the handcuffs were released properly. She can't have been injured too badly." Pete's tone darkened on the last statement.

"Thank you, Agent Lattimer. Now, Miss Donovan, did you by chance bring the Durational Spectrometer with you?" The expression on Mrs. Fredric's face boded ill for Claudia if she had forgotten it.

Patting the bag on the seat beside her, Claudia said, "Got it right here. I mean, never leave home without it, right?"

"Very good. Hopefully you'll be just inside the five hour window. Use it and let me know what you discover." The Farnsworth screen went blank.

"Right. Okay Pete, I'm gonna get this thing going so I can grab as much data as I can."

"Gotcha. Hey, um, do you think we should call the authorities? I don't feel too good about leaving these guys out here any longer." Pete sounded as though he had some very definite ideas about what the right thing to do was, and was just looking for an excuse to do it.

"I dunno. Maybe you should ask Mrs. F when we call her back?" said Claudia as she pulled out the spectrometer. Turning it on, she began to slowly scan the area, hoping to spot more than just a passing tumbleweed or field mouse.

"Yeah, maybe. Okay, I've got one more thing I want to look at and then I'm heading back up," replied Pete.

"Uh huh," said Claudia distractedly. Sliding the phone into her pocket, she focused the beam of the spectrometer on the grainy, wavering image that was appearing in front of her. It was of a woman, dressed in professional attire, and she was dragging something up the hill. At the top, she paused and turned to look back toward Claudia, and that's when the apprentice agent's jaw dropped.

"Holy shit." It was Myka, and she was dragging the inert body of H.G. Wells.

"Pete! Pete, get up here!" Transfixed by the image, Claudia could only watch as Myka tugged and pulled and fought and uncharacteristically swore as she eventually crested the hill.

Later, when she thought back over what she'd seen, Claudia couldn't help but recall the tender, almost loving way that Myka had handled H.G.'s unconscious body. A lot would be said, but nothing would make her believe that Myka's actions were anything other than those of a woman very much caught in the first blush of love.

"What is it Claudi- Oh my God. What the hell?"

Coming to a standstill next to Claudia, Pete gaped in amazement as his partner - he refused to think of her as his ex partner - manhandled H.G. Wells' body into the back of her car and then drove off for parts unknown.

"Tell me I didn't just see what I just saw," he said, after a long moment. Coming on the heels of discovering the remnants of something that looked like a bomb attached to the undercarriage of the Hummer, this was just too much. But it couldn't have been a bomb, could it? I mean, a bomb would've destroyed the whole vehicle, not just the tires, right?

"I wish I could," Claudia said softly. "But, maybe, maybe it's not - I mean, maybe she was just, you know, taking her to a hospital or something."

"Why would she do that? Why wouldn't she call the warehouse, or the cops, or, I don't know, just leave the crazy bitch there?"

Turning, Claudia frowned and said, "You really think Myka would leave anyone, even H.G. Wells, trapped in a wrecked car, possibly bleeding to death or something? Come on, Pete. That's not Myka, not at all."

"Yeah, but, Claudia, Myka wouldn't just quit her job, either. I gotta say, this looks, well, like it looks." Pete felt like someone had just told him the world really was flat. On top of everything else that had happened in the last day, this was the rotten icing on the compost cake.

Stubbornly, Claudia said, "Look Pete, I'm not stupid enough to think everything's perfect and that fluffy bunny rabbits are gonna come flying out of your ass! I'm just saying we shouldn't judge things on first appearances. I think we both know that around the warehouse, things aren't always what they seem." Bitterly, she added, "Myka wouldn't be the first of us to be led astray by something that seemed innocent."

Taken aback by the vehemence in Claudia's words, Pete backed up a step and held up both his hands. "Whoa there, buddy. I hear you, I really do. I haven't forgotten what MacPherson did either. How about we call a truce and let Mrs. F know what we've discovered?"

Claudia glared at him for a bit longer and then, finally, she seemed to deflate. "All right. But it's your turn to make the call. I don't think I can take many more 'Miss Donovans' before I say something I really shouldn't."

Pete pulled out his Farnsworth. "I guess this means I'm in charge now, hmm?"

"Oh please. I'm delegating, just like any good leader does," Claudia retorted snidely.

Flipping open the Farnsworth, while at the same time mimicking Claudia's words, Pete was startled to find the slightly disapproving glare of Mrs. Fredric staring back at him.

"I do hope you've got some information for me, Agent Lattimer. I'm a little busy to be entertaining social calls right now."

He gave a quick run down of what the spectrometer had revealed.

"And while neither of us know what Myka was thinking, neither of us are quite willing to believe the worst," he said in closing. He left out the part about the supposed bomb fragments. It's probably nothing. Might have even been part of the GPS unit or something like that.

"I agree. It's too soon to tell why Agent Bering acted as she did. Perhaps she was only behaving in the manner of a Good Samaritan."

"Yeah, I think I'm gonna call a couple of hospitals and ask about any recent Jane Does."

Shyly, Claudia said, "Maybe I should go back to the warehouse and try running a GPS search on Myka's cell."

"Good idea, Miss Donovan. I believe that Agent Bering's vehicle was equipped with such a device as well. Perhaps you should look for both?" said Mrs. Fredric. The way the statement came out made it definitely an order.

"On it."

Pete nodded, and then said, "Oh, Mrs. F, I gotta ask, what's going to happen to the agents? I mean, I just don't feel right leaving them here."

"Do not concern yourself with it, Agent Lattimer. I have dispatched a recovery team. They should arrive in due time."

Sighing in relief, Pete nodded and said, "That's good to know. Thanks, Mrs. F." The caretaker had already signed off, though.

They headed back to the warehouse, each lost in their own thoughts. Once there, Claudia immediately took over the computer while Pete parked himself next to a phone book. By silent consent, neither bothered to wake Artie. The curmudgeonly older agent needed rest, and neither were inclined to face the man's bombastic ire when it came to the subject of H.G. Wells.

The spiders Claudia had set to work looking for Myka's cell phone earlier were still active and had yet to ping back with any conclusive information. Leaving that to continue processing, she opened a new query window and began typing the command strings that would get her into the rental agency and give her access to their GPS records.

At about the same time, Pete stood. "I've got a hit. There's a woman at Stokes County Memorial that fits H.G.'s description. She was brought in earlier and is still in surgery."

A tiny pang of fear went through Claudia. What if it was H.G.? If she had been that badly hurt, it would be killing Myka - anger or no anger, when someone you cared about was hurt, you tended to be a lot more forgiving of past misdeeds.

"All right, go. I've got this," she said, pushing Pete toward the door. "And if it is them, give Myka a hug for me, okay?"

Nodding, Pete said, "You got it, kiddo."

Twenty minutes later, Claudia threw up both hands and did the nerd dance of joy in her chair. "Yes! I am the bomb, I'm bad, I'm bad. I so found you, Myka!"

"And why, pray tell, is it so important that you locate Myka at four in the morning?" Artie's voice was rough with sleep as well as its normal levels of irritability.

Scrambling to come up with a feasible excuse, Claudia threw up her hands and glared at him. "Because I just want to talk to her, that's all," she drawled slowly. "I mean, hello? A freaking, 'Dear Everybody' letter? I'm so worth more than that." She smiled nervously, hoping that the painkillers Artie was taking by the handful would distract him from noticing her nervousness.

"Kiddo, you have to give it a rest. Myka's gone. She made her choice. Respect that and move on." He patted her shoulder awkwardly. "Go home. Get some sleep. I'm sure it'll be business as usual soon enough."

Typing in a few hurried commands, Claudia nodded and said, "Maybe you're right. Maybe I should go home and get some sleep." She gave him a quick hug. "I'll see you later, okay?"

"Sure, kiddo. Drive safely."

Claudia rolled her eyes. "Artie! I swear, you're like a mother hen about that old car."

With a sigh, Artie said, "You have no idea, no idea at all."

Once outside, Claudia practically threw herself into the car, yanked open her laptop and immediately turned it on and downloaded the information she'd forwarded to herself.

"Okay, okay, now, I know where your car is, but not where you are."

A quick Google search gave her a few ideas. The GPS ping was coming from the parking lot of a truck stop, and it just happened to be the kind that had a motel on the premises. Once she knew that, it was easy-peasey, sweet and cheesy to break into the motel's computer and search through the records for a tell-tale sign that Myka was there.

Only five people had checked in the night before, and of those, only one of them had used the name Martha Bennet. There was no photo ID attached to the name, but the rather precise signature on the digital sign-in sheet was in a handwriting that was instantly familiar to Claudia.

"Martha? Really? You couldn't have picked something awesome like Madonna or Maxine or something like that?"

Punching in the number for "Martha's" room, Claudia held her breath and prayed.


Chapter 8

There were two things about Helena's current situation that were driving her close to the edge of insanity. One, she had to use the loo and, two, Myka was wrapped around her like a limpet. Now the one she could ignore, but the other, well, that had a secondary set of complications that had the potential to erupt into something she wasn't prepared to handle.

At some point, Myka had crawled into the bed, which wasn't the problem at all. No, in fact, she didn't even mind that she was cradled in Myka's arms. The pressing issue, as far as Helena was concerned, was that Myka's hand was quite distractingly cupping her breast.

For the last several heartbeats, Helena had held herself perfectly still, silently praying the other woman's fingers wouldn't twitch. Yet, at the same time, she was secretly hoping they would. Therein lay the sanity warping nature of the conundrum.

Then the room phone rang and Helena's internal debate came to a screeching halt when Myka shot up like she'd been poked in the ass with a cattle prod.

"I didn't schedule a wake up call," she grumbled blearily.

Helena didn't respond because she was too busy thanking God and cursing fate.

The phone continued to ring.

Tentatively, Myka reached over Helena and lifted the receiver. Holding it as though it might suddenly turn into a snake, she gingerly raised it and said, "Hello?"

"Yes!" Claudia's excited tone was loud enough that Helena could hear it. "Myka! Myka, listen, just listen okay? Whatever's going on, you gotta come back, all right? Just, come home."

Thrusting the receiver away, Myka stared at it as if it had bitten her. Her heart was pounding, her head was spinning, and to make it just that much harder to concentrate, she realized Helena was breathtakingly beautiful first thing in the morning.

The desire to drop the phone, lean down and kiss the other woman senseless settled in the pit of Myka's stomach and burned with the ferocity of a thousand suns.

"Myka, please? Myka, it's me, Claudia. Say something? Please? Wait, maybe you're being mind controlled or something. Damn, this sucks without a Farnsworth. Look, H.G. if you're evil and have Myka at your mercy, just ignore this call, okay? Yeah, I'm going to just go now, and bye." The phone went dead.

Myka was so lost in the beauty and splendor that was Helena that she didn't even notice until the other woman cleared her throat and spoke.

"Don't you think you should be calling her back? After all, you will need to turn me in, won't you?" Helena asked archly, even as she tried to contain her mirth over Claudia's babbled words.

"Huh?" Myka mumbled, causing Helena to glance up at her inquiringly.

The way Myka was looking at her was almost as distracting as waking up with the other woman's hand on her breast, and it was taking all of Helena's willpower not to answer the desire she could see filling Myka's gaze.

"Why did you kiss me?" The question was so out of left field, it might as well have come from Venus.


"In Cairo, that night, you kissed me. Why?" Myka let the phone fall and repositioned herself so that she was sitting cross-legged next to Helena.

Sighing, Helena replied, "Because if I'd gone one more second without doing so, I'd have gone insane. I thought - hoped, even - that you'd welcome my touch." She glanced away, letting her gaze be captured by the blank slate of the television screen. "I understand that's no longer an option, now."

The answer sent Myka's thoughts whirling. All that she could cling to was the phrase, "Turn me in," and how much the very idea of watching Helena vanish forever into whatever rabbit hole the regents had planned for her hurt.

"I can't do that," said Myka softly.

"Like I said, I understand." Helena shrugged and tried not to let the hurt she felt show. "I'm not the girl you take home to Mummy and Daddy."

"No, I meant that I can't turn you in." Taking a deep breath, Myka ignored the chaos in her head and said, "Someone used the Pearl of Wisdom on you, and that means that what happened wasn't your fault. That also means that there's someone out there who knows you're innocent - and they probably tried to kill you last night." The clues fell together like dominoes in Myka's thoughts. Leaping to conclusions wasn't something Myka was fond of, but in this case, she was relatively certain that there was malice aforethought involved in the wrecking of the regent's security vehicle.

Looking quite taken aback by Myka's sudden support, Helena said, "I don't understand. Now you actually believe me?"

"I believe the evidence. There's no way you could have gotten the Pearl and stuck it in your own ear. Nor could you have arranged for the accident that killed the guards. No, someone else is involved. What I can't figure out is if you voluntarily went along with them, or if you're as innocent as you claim."

"Myka, I swear that I could never willingly do anything to hurt you. Don't you see? You're all I've got. Why would I jeopardize that?" Realizing how what she had said sounded, she added, "What possible reason would I have for endangering the only people who understand and accept who I am?"

Myka wanted to believe her. Everything was telling her that the words were nothing but truth, but still, it was hard to measure the heartfelt words against the depth of Helena's actions. The sting of betrayal still made Myka's gut ache. Despite that, Myka was willing to give Helena a chance. Maybe it would bite her in the ass - hell, it probably would, but at least this way, she'd know, for absolute certain, the truth. That was all Myka wanted.

Rubbing her temple, Myka grimaced. This wasn't getting any easier. "I don't know, Helena. All I can do is follow the evidence. I'm not Pete. I don't get vibes about stuff. I have to trust the things I can see, and right now, what I see is someone who's in a lot of trouble – and possibly danger."

"All right. Are you going to call the warehouse? They are equipped to deal with a variety of situations." No matter how the staff at the warehouse might feel about her, Helena knew that they were the best when it came to circumstances that might involve artifacts.

Myka shook her head. "No, not yet. Artie - Artie wouldn't understand, and I don't think Pete would either." Then she remembered what had woken her. "But maybe..." She leaned over, picked up the phone, and dialed.

It was answered in less than two rings. "Hey, Claudia. Yeah, it's me. No, I'm not a mindless automaton. No, I'm not being held at gunpoint." She and Helena exchanged knowing grins. "Yes, I'm okay. Helena's okay, too. No, no, wait, listen - she didn't do it, Claudia. Trust me, okay? I don't have a lot of time, so here goes: someone used the Pearl of Wisdom on H.G. Yes, I know Mrs. Fredric supposedly had it last. No, I don't know how it got into Helena's head. I just know that it was there, and we both know what that means."

Helena listened raptly as Myka first reasoned with and then cajoled Claudia into going along with a very rough plan to stall Pete until they could gather more evidence in support of Helena's innocence. She was, quite frankly, impressed with Myka, and if it was possible, just that much more sick over the fact that any relationship they might have had was surely lost to the vagaries of chance.

Then she heard Myka say something about money and realized that she could finally contribute something worthwhile. "I've got money. I remember putting a very large bag of cash into a locker at a bus depot just outside of Chicago."

Myka covered the receiver and whispered, "Chicago? What the hell were you doing in Chicago?"

Helena shook her head. "I think I was there to -" She frowned. "I remember going to a restaurant and ordering something to eat, but instead of a meal, I was handed an envelope containing instructions on where I was to go with the Minoan Trident."

"Oh." Myka shivered. The idea that something as tiny as a pearl could cause a woman as intelligent, courageous, and beautiful as Helena to just blithely set about the task of destroying the world made Myka feel just a little bit ill.

"What? No, Claudia, I'm still here. Yeah, okay. Right, money's covered. So, you'll stall them? Just until we have some real evidence, okay? No, no, don't do anything that'll get you into a lot of trouble. You still work for them, remember?"

She smiled at whatever Claudia said in response. "I don't know. Maybe. Look, I have to get going. And Claudia? Thanks. I owe you one."

The phone had barely landed in its cradle when Myka suddenly became a whirlwind of activity. Gathering their things, she ducked into the bathroom, dressed, and returned to the room. By then, Helena had managed to sit up and was struggling to stand.

"Here, let me help you."

"Thank you."

They made it to the commode, where Myka left Helena to complete her ablutions.

"Do you think there might be enough time for me to have a bit of a wash? I'm afraid I feel quite dreadful," Helena called out from behind a partially closed door.

As pressed for time as they were, Myka knew that sometimes being clean made all the difference when one had been injured. However, there was no way Helena would be able to get her hair washed without getting her stitches wet or aggravating her shoulder injury. Of course, now that meant she had to come up with a way to help Helena without having to resort to the most obvious, and completely out of the question, idea of taking a shower with the beautiful woman.

That left the only other choice: bathing, but that was almost as bad. However - "Okay, can you get out of that shirt and wrap a towel around your shoulders?"

"I can certainly make the attempt," Helena replied, though she didn't sound at all sure of herself. "There is the very small issue of the fact that I cannot lift my arm over my head without wanting to scream in agony," she voiced her uncertainty aloud.

"Oh, yeah." Myka had dragged the chair from the center of the room over to the vanity sink just outside the bathroom door by then. "Okay, well, I guess I'll just come in and help with that, then."

Putting action to words, she resolutely turned and stepped into the bathroom. Helena was waiting for her, holding a towel in her left hand and pointing at her shoulder with the other.

"As you can see, I'm a bit banged up."

Myka smiled. "Yeah, you are kind of a flightless bird right now, aren't you?"

"I assure you, I neither look, sound, nor smell anything like an emu," Helena said as Myka assisted her out of the t-shirt.

Clad only in a lacy scrap of fabric masquerading as a bra, a pair of silk, lace-edged, boy-cut panties and Ace wraps, Helena still managed to look as regal as though she were dripping in diamonds and dressed to attend the Queen.

For her part, Myka kept her gaze firmly pinned on all points north of Helena's collarbone. Once they had draped a towel over her shoulders, they went out to the vanity, where Myka had the other woman sit with her back to the sink.

"I don't know how hot you like the water, so if it's too much, just let me know, okay?"

Helena settled into the seat, closed her eyes and sighed. "Of course."

It had been quite some time since she'd had someone's hands running through her hair and the sensation of it was like sucking on a spoonful of warm honey - richly sweet, and oh, so decadent. It didn't at all hurt that while she was enjoying the shampooing, she also had free rein to gaze up at Myka's enchanting assets. She was actually quite fascinated by the shift and play of the muscles in Myka's arms, but also found that she was drawn to the smooth line of her throat as well as the voluptuous curves hidden beneath the slightly wrinkled fabric of the cerulean blue shirt Myka was wearing.

Not entirely unaware of the scrutiny, Myka felt the tips of her ears warm the longer Helena stared. Finally, she couldn't take it any longer. "Did my nose suddenly turn green or something?"

"Excuse me, what?" Helena actually had to bite back a laugh.

"You're staring." Now Myka was blushing.

"Can you blame a girl? You are a very fetching example of the feminine form and it has been an extremely long time." Helena mock-leered at her, taking a moment to give Myka a very thorough once-over.

Both flattered and outraged, Myka rolled her eyes and said, "What am I going to do with you?"

Helena had to bite her tongue to keep from saying the very first thing that came to mind. Instead, she raised an eyebrow and coyly said, "What would you like to do with me?"

Myka's fingers stilled as just exactly what she would like to do unfolded in her mind. Casting aside the thought, she vigorously set to rinsing Helena's hair.

"Right now? I'll settle for getting you cleaned up and us out of here before Pete finds out Claudia's giving him the runaround."

Helena pursed her lips into an adorable pout. "Well you're just no fun today."

Sighing aggrievedly, Myka said, "What is it that you want me to say, Helena?"

All the playfulness vanished from Helena's expression. "I -" She looked away, unable to find the courage to say what was in her heart.

"Helena?" Myka slowed her strokes into feather light caresses. "What is it?"

Helena's eyes closed. "Please, don't - don't pretend that you want anything more than justice from me, Myka. I don't think I can handle it."

The naked need in Helena's eyes overwhelmed any objections Myka might have conjured in the face of both their desires. Lightning quick, Myka bent down and brushed her lips over Helena's and whispered, "Justice is not the only thing I want from you, Helena. I just can't accept anything else until I know the truth."

Gasping slightly, Helena replied, "I can accept that, on one condition."

"And that is?"

"Kiss me again. Give me something to hold on to until you're mine forever."

Forever. The word was a key slipping into the lock of Myka's heart. She could almost feel the tumblers spin as emotions erupted, spilling out and filling her with a wild combination of pure joy and heart-stopping fear.

Breathless, Myka brushed her lips over Helena's again and again, deepening her caresses until she could no longer deny the need to fuse their mouths together in a deep, melting kiss.

After checking out of the motel and locking their meager belongings in Myka's car, they walked over to the diner for breakfast.

On the way in, Myka spotted something very interesting. An older model minivan of an indeterminate shade of gray bore a weathered sign proclaiming that it was for sale. Both women stopped to look the vehicle over.

"Well, it isn't a Bentley, but it has its charms, I'm sure," said Helena as she fussed with the slightly ragged edges of the fabric now enshrouding her left arm. On the way out of the room, she'd grabbed a sheet from the cleaning cart and, after persuading Myka to help, fashioned a makeshift sling for her arm.

"Six hundred's a bit much for it, though. It's at least fifteen years old, maybe older."

Myka had the money - she'd pulled three hundred out of her account the day before in preparation for her original plan to leave, and she could easily get another five hundred from the ATM inside the convenience store, but she was fairly certain that her account would be frozen soon. After all, Claudia couldn't stall Pete and Artie forever, and Myka knew that as soon as Artie discovered her involvement, she'd become persona non grata to the older agent.

Unfortunately, there was nothing else they could do other than play the cards they'd been dealt. She'd try to talk the owner down in price - if it was a guy, she could turn on a little sex appeal, and if it was a woman... well, Myka wasn't above garnering a bit of sympathy for Helena's injuries.

Once inside the diner, Myka asked the waitress if she knew who owned the minivan.

"Why sure, sugar, it's my old beater. Been tryin' to sell that thing for a dog's age. Why, you need a car?"

Smiling and putting on a slightly nervous air, Myka said, "Actually yeah, I do. You see, my sister here is trying to get away from her husband - he's a mean bastard when he's drunk and last night was the last time she was going to let him hit her. I got us this far, but he knows my car, and I have got to get her to a safe place before he realizes she's gone."

As she'd spoken, the waitress' expression grew more and more sympathetic. "Oh honey, tell you what, you all go on over there and sit down and have yourself some breakfast."

"So you'll sell us the car, then?" Myka winced slightly, as though she was a little ashamed. "I'm afraid I don't have six hundred dollars."

"Oh don't you worry about a thing, honey. I'm sure we can work it out. That old thing ain't worth six hundred bucks anyway. My boy's just got his heart set on a newfangled computer system is all."

As she escorted them to a booth, Helena glanced up at Myka and whispered, "Your sister?"

Myka grinned sheepishly and then shrugged apologetically, causing Helena to smirk.

The waitress brought them coffee, and they quickly ordered pancakes and one very rare hamburger.

Over breakfast, they discussed wildly random, but extremely normal subjects like the weather, recent news events, and possible places where "Helen" might hide from her abusive 'husband'.

After they'd eaten and paid the tab, Myka stopped at the diner's ATM, then they met the waitress, whose name they'd discovered was Gladys, out by the van. Gladys happily accepted the proffered four hundred dollars and turned over the key.

Just before they got into the van, Myka turned and said, "And if my future former brother-in-law, Pete, should come looking for us-"

Gladys smiled grimly. "Don't you even spend one minute thinking about it, dear. We know exactly how to handle his kind around here."

Inwardly, Myka winced and hoped that Pete would forgive her, eventually.

As they set off toward Chicago, Helena turned to Myka and said, "I actually feel quite sorry for Agent Lattimer. I expect he's not going to get a very warm reception should he venture into that diner."

Myka couldn't help but chuckle. "You're probably right. I just hope they don't hurt him too badly. He's a good guy and shouldn't have to suffer because I have trust issues."

Flinching slightly, Helena said, "I can't help thinking that I'll never be able to apologize enough for what I did. The words just seem empty of all meaning when I can still close my eyes and see the expressions on your faces as I shot you and Pete."

Giving Helena a troubled look, Myka said, "I thought you were under the control of the Pearl by then?"

"I shot you; I should think that the answer is a given," said Helena wryly. "It doesn't absolve me of the guilt I feel. Even though my intentions toward you have never been anything but honorable, my actions put you in mortal danger. I don't know if that's forgivable."

"Perhaps you should just let me be the judge of that, hmm? I've seen a lot of things since working at the warehouse, and have had my share of troubles that required someone's forgiveness too." Myka grimaced and added, "Maybe you'll get the chance to ask Pete about Alice sometime."

Intrigued, Helena drawled, "You didn't by chance have trouble with Lewis Carroll's mirror, did you?

"If I take the fifth, the point would be lost, so yes, I did. And yes, it caused a lot of havoc. No, I didn't try to destroy the world, but damage was done, and there were a few people who were hurt as a result of my actions - or rather, Alice's actions. It took me awhile to understand that it wasn't my fault. I had help. You will, too."

As she spoke, Myka realized that she no longer believed that Helena was guilty. She was now only looking at the case as if Helena were also a victim. Any reservations had fled - perhaps because of, although she wanted to believe, in spite of - the glorious kiss that they had shared. "We'll figure this out, Helena. Why don't we go over what you remember, and maybe we can determine when it all started."

Settling into her seat, Helena absently toyed with the fringe of fabric along the edge of her sling. "Where should we begin?"

"At the beginning, of course. How about – What do you remember about Cairo?" Outside the van, the terrain whizzed by; sometimes another car passed them, but for the most part, the country through which they traveled was empty, flat, featureless grassland.

"Cairo. Such a grand city – it changes little and, yet still it shifts. There were parts of it that looked as though I'd just arrived by steamship, and then there were places that were as alien to me as if I'd never before stepped foot outside my own door. However, mostly what I recall about Cairo is kissing you. Seeing you in the moonlight like that, I just had to act." She smiled wistfully. "I remember you tasted of expensive cognac and honeyed dates. I remember wanting, more than anything, to lose myself in you, because you were warm, and bright, and strong, and all the things that I am not."

She went on, but the remainder of her answer was lost as Myka fought the urge to turn the van around, pull back into the motel parking lot and spend the next year proving to Helena that she truly was worthy of the love she so earnestly craved.

"Helena, you can't say things like that to me and expect me to be able to concentrate," Myka said softly. "You are a wonderful person; one I am honored to know. That said, perhaps we should focus on realities and not romanticism?"

"As you will. I recall, presumably the things you do. Meeting up with Mr. Valda in the marketplace, locating Warehouse 2, you mocking my attire – really Myka how was I supposed to know? I remember that it was Pete's love for pancakes that solved the Mind challenge, and Valda sacrificing himself to get us through the Body challenge." Her expression grew melancholy. "I remember holding my daughter; she was alive and whole and then, once again, having that ripped away from me by cruel reality."

"I'm sorry that I had to do that to you; we couldn't leave you behind." Myka still felt bad about that. If there was one thing she would use an artifact for, it would be to give Helena back her daughter, if nothing else because that one event had so utterly defined the broken path the other woman had followed.

"No, you were right to act as you did." Helena smiled sadly. "I remember how comforting it was to have you there - and that it was your touch calling me back to the present, soothing away my tears, proving that there were still good things in the world. That I still had something worth fighting for."

"And there you go with the mushy stuff again," Myka said, smiling to take the sting out of her words. "Seriously, Helena - it sounds like you were you throughout most of what I remember. What happened when we split up?"

Helena frowned as she tried to make sense of the jumbled images in her head. "I ran out onto the warehouse floor. The orb drew me; I seem to recall thinking that maybe there was some type of generator that I could bollox up. Then, I heard a sound - like footsteps. I turned to look and - nothing. I remember very little of the next several minutes. The next thing I knew, I was standing in front of that orb, mesmerized by the lights. When you and Pete approached, I knew exactly what I had to do, so I did it. After that, the days seem to rush together. The next truly clear memory I have is fighting with you in Yellowstone. You were pleading with me and then, suddenly, you put a gun in my hand and tried to make me kill you. That's when my world shifted - that's when I was able to push aside the insidious whispers in my head."

Covering her face with her hand, Helena shivered. "I cannot even begin to describe the sensation of those whispers. Oily, caustic, slimy, and yet, sensual, like pure silk - they told me things; they promised me miracles. I was enchanted, caught betwixt my desire to have my daughter back and an oddly external command to bring about the destruction of the world."

With a soft sob, Helena pulled her hand away, revealing glassy, tear-filled eyes. "Even then, the wretched whispers did not cease. They just pulled back, planning horrible things. I was to escape, you see, and make my way back into the warehouse and wreak whatever havoc I could - starting with you. Oh they wanted you dead, Myka. You were such a threat to them. I can remember entertaining visions of tying you up and performing bizarre rituals upon your flesh. It was utterly sickening, and yet, I could not turn away from the siren's lure - every horrible act, every terrible cost was justified by the promise they gave me. I would have my daughter back. But Christina does not live, and will never live again. Instead, all I have done is sullied her memory and permanently stained the fabric of our future with darkness." The long-held tears spilled over, streaming down her cheeks in an unchecked avalanche.

Myka reached over and brushed her knuckles across Helena's cheek, wiping away her tears. "You aren't to blame, Helena. That person is not you. I know this now. And you know, I think Christina would be proud of you – because you fought the influence of the Pearl and you won. You didn't destroy the world and now you're going to prove your innocence and get justice against whoever hurt you."

Tearfully, Helena smiled as she wiped at her face. "That's good of you to say, Myka, but the truth is that we have no idea who did this to me. The fact that we know about the Pearl at all is a pure fluke of fate. Had there not been that accident, I doubt I could have fought the effects of the artifact for long."

Myka frowned. "I'm not entirely certain that it was an accident. It seems far too convenient, don't you think? So, why don't you tell me what you can remember. I've got a few ideas of my own, and maybe together, we can figure some of it out."

There was so much more to address, and Myka knew she could not allow Helena to wallow in the guilt for long. It was far more important to establish a time line as well as gather what facts they could, if they were to discover who it was that had caused all the trouble in the first place.


Chapter 9

Claudia was sitting on the horns of a dilemma, and they were sharper than she'd ever imagined. It sucked to be at cross purposes with everyone around her, but this was Myka and to think that Myka had gone rogue was laughable. As hard as it was to imagine, there had to be some reason why Myka trusted H.G. and because of that, Claudia was inclined to give the woman the benefit of the doubt.

With that in mind, she began to pursue a couple of tiny anomalies she'd noticed in the warehouse computer system. They could have been nothing, but maybe - maybe they were footprints that would lead to a clue.

Pete was still at Stokes County Memorial. He was supposed to call soon – the surgery on the Jane Doe should be almost done. It would turn out to be a bust, as Claudia well knew, but those few extra minutes would buy a little more time to dig up the evidence they needed to prove Helena's innocence.

Involved with her search, Claudia didn't notice when Leena walked into the bedroom.

"You missed breakfast. But that's not surprising since I don't think you even slept last night. What's going on?" Leena gazed intently at the hacker, reading a cesspool of shifting colors in her aura. Glancing quickly away, she tried to ignore the sudden onset of queasiness in her stomach. Something was happening, that much was clear, but whatever it was, she wasn't at all sure that it was worth investigating. As long as Leena had been involved with the warehouse, she'd learned that there were some things not worth pursuing.

"Oh yeah, been working on something for Mrs. F. You know how it goes - first they don't want you messing with their stuff, next thing you know, you're fixing everything in the place." Claudia shrugged nonchalantly, hoping that Leena wouldn't somehow pick up on her nervousness.

"I see." Clearly, Claudia had never dealt with someone who could read auras, because at the moment, Leena could very nearly see the words, "Liar-liar pants on fire," swimming around the other woman's head. However, there was no tinge of dangerous intent to the lies, so Leena let it go. Given Claudia's reaction to Myka's departure, it was easy to deduce that the young woman had probably spent the entire night trying to find her friend.

"So you didn't stay up all night looking for Myka then? I'm impressed." Leena couldn't help but tease Claudia a little. What she wasn't expecting was the look of utter shock that flickered across the young woman's face.

"What? N-no, of course not!" The stammered refusal was so patently untrue that Leena began to worry.

"Claudia, it's okay. Myka's your friend. I understand that it's hard to let her go, but maybe she just needs some time alone right now." Leena moved over to the bed, sat down next to Claudia and started rubbing the younger woman's back.

Deflating a little, Claudia sighed and said, "You know, I just never thought anyone could get Myka so down." She shook her head sorrowfully. "It seems so crazy that Myka couldn't see that H.G. was bad news. I mean, you could, right?"

Leena smiled sadly. "Ah, but you see, I didn't see anything bad in her. While she was here, Helena seemed a little aloof maybe, definitely sad, and sometimes, once in a while, pretty nice. We had tea a couple of times and talked about her adventures. She was quiet and proud of her accomplishments." With a one-armed shrug, she added, "I guess she must have been better at masking her aura than most people."

"Yeah, I guess; I didn't see it either." Wistfully, Claudia smiled. "She did save my life, so she couldn't have been all bad, right?"

Claudia's phone rang and she practically leapt from the bed. Leena just snickered over the ring tone and left the room. "Yeah?" Claudia answered with a forced casualness, grateful that Pete couldn't see her face.

"It's not her. Back to square one, I guess." Pete sounded exhausted. "How about you? Find anything?"

"Yeah, I found the car. The signal's stationary. It's coming from a place about two and a half hours northeast of here. I can send the coordinates to your cell if you want."

"No, I'll get them later. It's probably time to bring the big guy up to speed. Give Mrs. F a holler and then meet me at the warehouse."

Inwardly, Claudia cringed. If she was under too much scrutiny, she wouldn't be able to do much to help Myka and H.G. On the other hand, she'd have first hand knowledge of just how close they were to catching them. "Decisions, decisions," she murmured under her breath. Louder, she said, "All right, give me two shakes and a twirl and I'll be there."

Pete signed off and Claudia turned back to her computer to see if her little worms had dug up anything useful. Tiny bits of data were compiling, the shape of which she was almost able to decipher, but there were just too many unknown variables to have a clear picture yet. Putting the laptop on standby, she gathered her things and headed for the car. Once inside, she flipped open her cell and tried Myka's number. Remarkably, the other woman picked up. "Hey, you gotta ditch this phone pronto. Things are about to shift gears around here."

"Understood. I'll contact you some other way," said Myka shortly. They hung up and Claudia quickly opened her phone, jerked out the SIM card and replaced it with an untraceable backup. Next, she pulled out her Farnsworth, called Mrs. Fredric and related what they knew.

Frowning, Mrs. Fredric said, "I find it hard to believe that an agent of Myka Bering's caliber could so easily turn her back on her career. I have suspicions that more is going on here than meets the eye. It's time to inform Arthur of the events of last night."

"Oh boy, you know he's gonna lose it, right? He's got a real hate-on for H.G."

"I am aware of Agent Nielsen's bias toward Miss Wells and I realize that it could cloud his judgment with regard to this situation. However, he is the most qualified to lead the search for Agent Bering and Miss Wells."

Claudia had serious reservations about that; however, she was only a junior agent, hardly more than an apprentice, so she held her tongue, and instead, asked, "So what do you want me to do?"

"Once Arthur has been apprised of the situation, I want you to go over Lattimer and Bering's reports for the Warehouse 2 incident, as well as the subsequent events in Wyoming. Take your time; revisit the entire thing. Somewhere in there are the answers we need. There may be something that tells us what to expect next."

There was something in Mrs. Fredric's expression – something that an observant viewer might suppose was concern. If Artie had been there, he might have been able to detect the stray emotion tightening the corners of the caretaker's eyes, but since it was Claudia who was on the other end of the Farnsworth, all that mattered was hearing the words that filled her with glee.

To do what Mrs. Fredric was asking meant that she would need unfettered access to the warehouse archives, and with that, she might be able to hunt down larger chunks of data pertaining to the "footprints" she'd been collecting. She had a hunch that particular information might help Myka and H.G. "I'll need access codes to get into those reports," she said as calmly as she could manage.

"Get them from Agent Lattimer. His clearance level should be enough to get you what you need. If you require further information, call me. Do not," she said, frowning deeply, "abuse my trust, Miss Donovan."

Saluting, Claudia said, "Yes ma'am. I mean, no ma'am. Of course not. Would I do that? I'll be good, I promise."

The last thing Claudia saw as the Farnsworth's screen went blank was Mrs. Fredric's smirking face.


Of all the times they'd seen Artie angry, this was closing in on the top five of the worst. His face was so scarlet, Claudia was actually afraid he might keel over. Meanwhile, Pete was making pacifying motions and trying to get the older man to sit down.

"No, I will not sit down, Pete, that woman is a menace! I warned you. I warned you all and did you listen to me? No, of course not. Let this be a lesson to you: Artie knows best. Artie is always right. Artie should not be mocked!"

With each statement, Artie shook his finger in Pete's face, forcing the younger agent to backpedal until he was brought up short by the solid presence of a wall behind him.

"Um, okay, well, there's kind of - really, I think you should sit down, Artie. It would really be best if you could do that," said Pete weakly.

Still ranting, Artie barely paused in his pontifications on how much better he was than them, but he did allow Claudia to drag him over to a couch where he pretty much collapsed in a heap.

Once he was seated, Pete quickly said, "H.G. escaping isn't the only news - Myka's with her and, I really hate to say this, but I think she's helping her."

Artie actually looked like someone had slapped him. His jaw hung slack and his hands dropped into his lap. Tiny, inarticulate sounds gurgled in his throat, but he seemed quite unable to process the information.

"In her defense," Pete added while shooting a glance at Claudia, who nodded and ran over to get a glass of water, "it did look as though she was helping because H.G. was injured and not because she was, you know, going over to the dark side of the Force."

"It's so comforting to know that you've gone and decided - without the benefit of actual evidence - that Myka - our Myka - was acting innocently. When you know very well that she was the one who pushed that abomination on us in the first place. No - no, I just can't accept that she's innocent in this. Her culpability is clear. Myka Bering is no longer an agent of the warehouse - she is one of them. As such, she will be treated as hostile at all times. You are to have no contact with her unless you can be assured of a capture. Otherwise, our task will be to apprehend both Bering and Wells and make sure they're shoved so far into the Bronze sector, no one will ever find them!"

The more Artie ranted, the angrier Claudia got. She knew he was wrong and she couldn't do anything to prove it. Infuriated, she shouted, "How can you be so certain of Myka's guilt? Do you always jump to conclusions like this? No wonder my brother got trapped the way he did - every time he tried to talk to you about it, you were too busy behaving like an ass!" Shoving the glass of water at him, Claudia stormed off.

"Claudia? Claudia, you get back here, young lady! If you so much as even think about trying to warn Myka we're on to her, I swear I'll -" He started to stand, but was stopped by Pete's hand on his chest.

Throwing a two-finger salute over her shoulder, Claudia called out, "Keep your shirt on, Artie. I've got work to do for Mrs. F. You go on ahead and enjoy your witch hunt. I've got better things to do than to waste my time listening to a bitter old man."

Pete was sure he was about to witness World War III, but instead, Artie seemed to just run out of steam. Awkwardly, he patted Artie's shoulder and said, "She's just a kid, man. Don't let her get to you."

Cradling his head in his hands, Artie whispered, "This is why I don't let people get close. They always hurt you, Pete. Always." He looked up and his expression was resolute. "I know at times it seems like I don't care, but I do. I really do. You don't think the knowledge that Myka has betrayed us hurts me deeply? Well it does. It always hurts when it happens, but I get over it because I have a job to do, and so do you. We cannot allow people like Myka and H.G., with their dangerous knowledge, to run free in this world. You understand, don't you?"

Pete could only gaze sympathetically at the older agent. However he felt about the situation, he knew that he could never do anything to hurt Myka. They were partners, and that meant something to him. Whatever was going on with H.G., Pete knew that Myka had her reasons for acting as she had. He only hoped he'd have the chance to hear them before Artie shuffled her off to the Bronze sector.

A few minutes later, Claudia reappeared, a piece of paper in hand. "Here," she said, thrusting it at Pete. "The GPS coordinates I promised you. Happy hunting." She sneered the last two words dramatically.

Artie stood and snatched the paper from Pete. "Good. Let's go get them before they have a chance to run."

Grabbing his little black bag, Artie jammed on his hat and headed for the exit.

Throwing an apologetic glance at Claudia, Pete followed, calling out, "Hey man, wait up. I'm driving!"


Chapter 10

Step by step, Helena slowly told Myka what she remembered of the accident. As she listened, Myka tried to construct the scene in her head. The image that formed was one of chaos: a brief respite of peace when the swerving, out of control SUV had finally left the road, followed by a single moment of utter terror, and then, hours of semi-lucidity as Helena was slowly strangled by the seat belt.

"So you're sure that you heard two separate explosions - when tires blow out, they can be quite loud," Myka said, trying to keep any inflection from her voice. She didn't want Helena to think that she didn't believe her, but she also didn't want to encourage embellishment.

"Positive. I am not entirely ignorant of the modern world. What is it that you think I was doing all those months after MacPherson de-bronzed me? I assure you that I was not picking daisies and writing dreadful poetry!"

Myka couldn't help but chuckle at that. "So, no - 'Roses are red, violets are blue, my hair is brown, and I like you' directed to little Tommy Olsen down the block?"

The two women shared a look and then burst out laughing.

"Oh that is truly dreadful. Did you really write that for some poor lad?" Helena twisted in her seat so that she could watch Myka's face as she replied.

Flushing scarlet, Myka said, "Oh yes. I wrote reams and reams of horrible poetry for poor Tommy. Of course, he never saw a single word of it."

"Such a shame that he never knew of your unrequited love. Did you not think he would share your tender feelings? Perhaps he too had volumes of purple prose to express his undying love for you."

Myka snorted. "I doubt it. I wasn't very pretty as a kid. Most of the boys ignored me; the girls treated me like a virus because I was smart and didn't mind showing it." She shrugged sadly.

"Their loss has become my utterly enjoyable gain, then. I would not have you as anything other than what you are, Myka Bering. So come on then, stun me with your mastery of the English language," said Helena teasingly.

Myka blanched. "Oh no, really, I couldn't."

Batting her eyelashes, Helena said, "Please?"

"Would you stop that? Oh my God, what are you, twelve?" Myka wanted to reach out and tweak Helena's nose, but she couldn't very well do that and keep the van steady on the road so she settled for sticking her tongue out at the other woman.

"One hundred forty-four, but really my dear, when you look this good, who's counting?" replied Helena roguishly. "Still, I had hoped to be dazzled by some of your poetry. Oh well, I guess I shall have to be disappointed." Sighing dramatically, she turned back to look out the front window.

"Oh - for crying out loud! All right then, you asked for it! 'Twinkle, twinkle little star, shine your light upon this car. Let your glory lead the way, that Helena and I might rest today. I wish I may, I wish I might, have many kisses when all is put right.' Happy now?"

Helena didn't reply; instead, she began planning the many, many ways she could make Myka's wishes for kisses come true and hopefully, far, far sooner than some nebulous moment in the distant future.

"I told you I sucked at this," Myka grumbled softly.

"And I have been duly educated. Although, I should like to point out that as the subject of said dire poetry, I did find myself enchanted by its innocent charm. Perhaps your command of rhyme and meter is stronger than you know." Smiling sweetly, Helena then said, "You may consider me suitably touched and humbled by your bravery."

Fighting the urge to roll her eyes, Myka retorted, "Great, now can we get back to the subject of the accident? If you heard two explosions and I saw that both passenger side tires were completely blown, then was someone shooting at you?"

"I don't think so because there weren't any other vehicles on the road. At least, none that I recall. My memories of that time are quite fuzzy." Helena tapped the stitched line of the gash on her forehead. "I suspect this has something to do with that."

Nodding slowly, Myka said, "Okay, so you didn't see another car, but maybe there was a sniper." She tried to think back, to remember what the terrain around the road looked like. Had there been a place where someone could have lain in wait and fired upon the approaching Hummer?

After a few minutes of contemplation, Myka said, "No, I don't think that's it, either. That area's pretty flat and featureless." She shrugged. "I don't know - maybe there was an explosive involved? How big were the booms?"

"They were fairly distinct. Louder than a gunshot; quieter than dynamite. I'm sorry, I just can't be more precise. I think I hit my head right after that."

Grimacing sympathetically, Myka said, "Okay. And you were still under the influence of the Pearl then, too. It's no wonder your memory of that time is Swiss cheese."

"If you must compare the contents of my mind to cheese, then I'd prefer it to be a nice Somerset cheddar."

"It's just an expression, Helena. I don't actually think your brain is made of cheese." Myka chuckled lightly. "Though, with all you've been through lately, maybe we should check to see if your skull is made out of Kevlar. You're remarkably intact for being blown up, tossed around like a rag doll, and left to die in a ditch. "

"I admit, I am notoriously hardheaded, but I doubt even my skull could withstand a bullet."

Myka started to reply, but then paused and said, "Hey, look. It's Walmart. Maybe we should stop and get some supplies. We need a change of clothes and some sleeping bags. I doubt we'll find another motel willing to overlook our lack of valid IDs."

"You are surely not suggesting that we should attempt camping out by the side of the road, are you? That wasn't safe even back when I was an agent for Warehouse 12." Helena looked truly scandalized by the idea.

"Of course not. We'll find a campground, pay the fee, and crash in the back of the van." Indicating the opening behind the second row of seats with a thumb, Myka added, "There's plenty of room. Heck, I slept in the rear end of a Honda Civic for three months once just because I couldn't afford rent and tuition fees." She smiled gleefully. "Compared to that, it'll be like we're at the Hilton." As she spoke, she pulled the van off the freeway and headed for the area where she'd seen the mega store.

Craning her head so that she could look back into the area Myka had indicated, Helena tried to imagine what it would be like to sleep in the small space. At first, it seemed impossible, but then, as her analytical mind went to work supplying her with angles and possibilities, she realized that it was quite likely to be a very, very pleasant experience.

"I suppose it won't be as dreadful as it sounds. However, I would like to point out that I am still quite sore - perhaps you can locate something soft upon which we can lie?" Helena had a clear vision now. She would, of course, be sleeping on her right side, but this time, she would be cradled in Myka's arms, with her head pillowed upon the other woman's shoulder. It would be sweetly glorious. Perhaps, she would even have the courage to steal a few kisses.

Just as soon as the idea flowed like molasses over her thoughts, Helena had to discard it. Who was she kidding? She would never have the courage to take what she wanted now. Not after what she had done - or almost done - to Myka. It was unthinkable to be desiring tenderness, while knowing that only a short time ago, she had sought destruction. The kisses they'd shared were a one-time stroke of good fortune, no matter what she'd said about wanting to have Myka in her life forever.

Myka glanced over at Helena, and immediately noticed the slightly pained expression on the other woman's face. "Oh, of course. I'll see if I can afford an air mattress. That's a kind of sleeping mat, only you fill it with air and -"

"I know what it is. I've seen the so-called infomercials. Claudia has even been teaching me to use the computer. I have become familiar with 'Google' and 'eBay', though the second is a place where I feel I could spend far too much money on useless trinkets."

Nodding, Myka replied, "Oh yeah, that place is dangerous. Artie makes us cruise the site occasionally looking for artifacts. I have to be careful to leave my wallet in another place or else I'm tempted to buy stuff just because it looks cool."

She pulled into the discount store's parking lot, found a space fairly close to the entrance and then said, "I know you must still be tired. Why don't you stay here and get some rest while I go inside and do the shopping.? Oh, and here, I got these at the truck stop -" She turned and reached into the backseat, dug around in a bag, and pulled out a cellphone. "This one's for you. I charged them last night, so it should be good. My number's already programmed into the number one slot. Number two is Claudia." Even before Claudia's call suggesting she ditch her SIM card, Myka had planned to use only disposable phones - at least until she'd gathered the evidence she needed to prove Helena's innocence. She'd only left hers on when they'd left the truck stop because she was expecting another call from Claudia and had been extremely relieved when she was finally able to shut if off for good.

"If something happens to me, call Claudia. She'll know what to do."

Helena, who had been busily contemplating both the size of the building and the mass of humanity streaming in and out of the doors, gingerly accepted the phone and said, "You will be back sometime today, won't you? I should think you'd need a map, provisions, and a compass to get 'round inside that mammoth construction."

"You do realize that I'm fairly used to shopping in places like this, don't you? I mean, it's no Piccadilly Circus, but it has its charms," Myka retorted.

"Carry on then. Tut-tut and all that nonsense. Once more into the breach - just do be careful of that rather immense clown over there. He looks quite sinister." She indicated an eight foot tall statue of Ronald McDonald that was placed just outside of the entrance to the attached fast food franchise.

"Millions of health nuts would agree with you on that one; however, I really like their fries, so I can't complain." Myka slipped the new phone into her pocket and then exited the vehicle. Standing just outside, she gave Helena a long look and then said, "I'll be back before you know it, okay?"

Resettling herself into her seat, Helena rested her head against the support and smiled. "Just go, already. I can't miss you if you don't leave."

"I'm going, I'm going," said Myka with a laugh. As she closed the door, she spotted a shopping cart wedged up against the curb of the planter across from the van. Grabbing hold of the handle, she gave it a tug to release it and then headed for the door.

Once inside, she quickly set her sights on the sporting goods section. It was odd to be doing something so utterly normal. When was the last time I went shopping, anyway? Leena does all the cooking and I haven't needed a new dress in ages.

The cart had one bad wheel, which skipped, stuttered, and chattered against the floor, forcing her to manhandle it around corners and down aisles. At one point, she passed the toy department where three laughing, yelling children tumbled out in front of her, requiring her to come to an abrupt stop. A sharp reprimand formed on the tip of her tongue, but she bit it back, smiling tensely as their mother scowled at her.

"Youshould be more careful. There are kids all over the place in here."

Maybe you shouldn't let your children run around like wild animals. Myka continued to smile, but inwardly she seethed. Inattentive parents made her want to shoot something.

"Yes ma'am. Of course ma'am," she said pleasantly and edged the cart around the squabbling ball of children. It wouldn't do to get caught just because she decided to pick a fight with someone over their parenting skills.

Once she was in the sporting goods department, she studied the various offerings and tried to imagine what kinds of things they would need to get through the next few days. I'm on a budget, too, she thought as she studied the self in front of her. Pressing her hands together, she tapped her index fingers against her lips while comparing prices on sleeping bags. Even as reasonable as they were, she knew that her money would only go so far. At the end of the aisle, however, she found the perfect solution. I just won't think about any ulterior motives I might have for wanting to share it with Helena. Nope, not a one. My intentions are completely pure and stem from frugality, yes siree, Bob.

Tossing the two person sleeping bag into the basket, she turned to face the other side of the aisle and selected the first cheap air mattress she could find. Okay, we have a bed. Now, for pillows, food, and oh yeah, toiletries. The mental list continued on as she went from aisle to aisle, gathering supplies, always mindful of the price. If she couldn't find it cheap, and if it wasn't utterly necessary, she put it back.

One thing she did not put back was a box of cereal bars. When she'd spotted them, she'd grabbed it as a joke, but then she realized that they might come in handy. After all, they still had quite a long drive until the made it to Chicago. And driving is hungry work. She began to feel a certain sense of adventure as she collected the things that would keep her and Helena relatively comfortable. Though there was obviously a sense of danger to the endeavor, at the moment it seemed as though any real trouble was very far off, leaving her to treat the time she was spending with Helena as a kind of vacation. It's like we're the only two people who really know what's going on, and because of that, we're safe.

Myka sighed and looked at the two packages of hot dogs she had in her hands. One was the cheap kind, the other, a more expensive, better tasting brand. She chose the higher cost version, if only because she had a brief vision of wiping ketchup from Helena's lips and then leaning in and kissing her, and truthfully, she would just prefer to share the more flavorful variety. I really need a cold shower. I can't seem to stop thinking about her. I want - I don't know what I want, but she keeps talking about things like forever, and I don't know - it's tempting to want that with her, but, what if I can't prove her innocence? What if she is guilty and I'm just a fool? The idea of expensive hot dogs didn't seem so enticing now, and with a grimace, Myka exchanged the packages.

The next area of the store Myka found herself perusing was the ladies' clothing department. Already, she'd chosen a couple pairs of pants, a few tops, and a pair of sensible shoes for the injured fugitive. Yes, fugitive. You are now guilty of aiding and abetting. Bet that's something you never thought you'd have to write home about, is it? Shame flooded her as she imagined the disappointment on her parents' faces when they learned of her actions. Stoically, she pushed the sensation aside. Helena would be proven innocent, in that Myka had to believe, or else everything she'd ever known to be true about herself would be a lie. I just can't be that wrong about someone. I just can't! She rounded a corner and nearly ran smack dab into a rack of inexpensive, lacy bras. For about two seconds she contemplated buying one of the cheap scraps of fabric for Helena, but the thought of asking her to trust her already bruised flesh to substandard material made Myka wince in sympathy. The touch, the feel of cotton... Humming the jingle softly, she angled the cart around the stand of low-cost lace and went in search of more sturdy, if slightly less enticing, undergarments.

Finally done shopping, Myka headed out to the car, nibbling on french fries as she navigated the overfull cart to the back of the van. There had been just enough money left to buy a couple of value meals from the fast food restaurant and still leave them with money for gas and camping fees. If Helena's money was gone, then they'd be in real trouble. Myka had already withdrawn the maximum she and her bank had agreed on when she'd set up her account and she really didn't want to risk another withdrawal now that they were on the road. That was if she could access her account by now - Artie might have had it frozen just to spite her. She knew she was going to have a lot of explaining to do when this was all over, but she hoped that the older agent would be in a better frame of mind, having been shown that Myka's actions were done for the right reasons.

Tossing everything but their lunch into the back of the van, Myka stood and watched Helena for a moment. The other woman was deeply asleep, her body completely relaxed, her head thrown back, while soft snores disturbed the fine hairs that had fallen across her face. She was utterly adorable. Acres and acres, and if I'm lucky, it could be mine. The wistful thought spurred Myka to smile. Suddenly, she couldn't get out of there fast enough. She just wanted to be back on the road so that they could find the bastard who'd hurt her Helena. My Helena? Oh boy. I'm in so much trouble...

Coming around to the driver's side, Myka opened the door and was about to reach in and set the food down in the space between the seats when she noticed that Helena's sleep wasn't nearly as peaceful as it had appeared from the back. Shaking and twitching, she struggled against invisible attackers, grunting and groaning as she dodged unseen blows. Quickly, Myka set the food aside and climbed in, reaching across to shake Helena awake. "Helena, hey, wake up, you're having a nightmare." She'd only meant to gently touch the other woman's shoulder, but just as her fingers grazed Helena's arm, the other woman's eyes flew open.

"Don't you dare touch her!" she shouted and, before Myka could react, Helena struck out, landing a solid, backhanded blow across Myka's right cheek. Knocked backwards, Myka fought to keep from falling out of the car even as pain blossomed across her face.

The sensation of impact must have been enough to wake Helena, because she shook her head and said, "Myka? Is that you? Are you all right?" Spotting a rapidly reddening mark on Myka's cheek that was accompanied by a thin cut that was beginning to well with blood, she reached out to touch it, but then arrested the motion and pulled her hand back against her chest. "Did I do that? I'm so, terribly, terribly, sorry. I must have been dreaming." The words came out in a rush as she twisted and tried to reach for Myka, but the other woman waved her off.

"I'm fine, Helena. It's all right. I knew you were trapped in a nightmare, I shouldn't have tried to touch you. I'm the one who's sorry." She dabbed at the freely bleeding cut on her cheek. "Was it about Christina?" she asked softly.

The sight of blood on Myka's cheek was too much for Helena. Slumping into her seat, she murmured, "It was. It usually is." Even now, with all the terrible things that she'd done, Helena was surprised to find that she was still yet capable of more harm. What kind of monster was she that she could so easily hurt the woman she... Twisting her thoughts away from that path of madness, Helena said, "You shouldn't have to fear for your safety just because I'm a dangerous dreamer."

Unable to ignore the desire to touch any longer, Myka reached out and cupped her hand over Helena's cheek. "I don't fear for my safety around you, Helena." She smiled winsomely. "My sanity may be in doubt, but I know you wouldn't hurt me."

Helena's eyes grew glassy as she covered Myka's hand. "I think I could have lived ten lifetimes and not met a woman like you, Myka Bering. If your sanity is in doubt, then mine has long since disintegrated. I can only hope that someday, we can be crazy together."

Myka chuckled. "Right now, I'll settle for a few days where everyone isn't treating you like you're evil, and me like I'm nuts for trusting you." Digging around in the bag of food, she came up with a couple of napkins and started trying to clean her face.

"Here, give me that," said Helena as she pulled the paper tissue from Myka's hand. Gently, she began dabbing at the cut. It was small - perhaps only a fraction of an inch - but still bled freely. After a few swipes though, the flow slowed and became sluggish, eventually stopping altogether. "There, all gone." With one final pass of the tissue, the remaining blood was removed.

Throughout Helena's tender care, Myka had sat still, trying hard to ignore the bolts of sensation that were passing from her cheek to several southerly parts of her body. Desire rose, warm and thick, and before Helena could lean back, Myka caught her hand and pressed it against her undamaged cheek. Nuzzling it, she whispered, "You make me feel so much, Helena. I don't know how to handle it. I don't even know how to understand it." She turned her gaze to meet Helena's and despite the awkward, uncomfortable nature of their positions, they managed to meet each other halfway to share an intense kiss.

Helena's hand slipped from Myka's cheek to the back of her neck, holding her fast as she tasted deeply of her lips. Kissing Myka made her feel whole and unblemished. The angry ghosts of her past faded, leaving her to be just Helena, a woman who could be lucky enough to someday find true love.


Chapter 11

The first twenty minutes of the trip were spent in utter silence as Artie huddled on his side of the car and stared out at the road ahead, glowering at each vehicle that stood between them and their destination. Every time Pete ventured to make a comment, Artie would glance at him as if he were a particularly nasty substance he'd just scraped off his boots.

By the half hour mark, Pete began to feel like he was twelve years old and had just gotten caught peeking up Cindy Forrester's skirt. When a full hour had passed, he was sweating bullets and finally blurted, "All right, we should have told you immediately. In our defense, Mrs. F did tell us to look into it first."

Artie just took off his glasses, cleaned them, and then rubbed his eyes. Pinching the bridge of his nose, he growled, "After almost two years of working together, I shouldn't have to say this: if it has anything, anything to do with the warehouse, you are to notify me immediately. I don't care if I'm on my deathbed. It's my job to handle these things."

Knowing that he shouldn't ask, but not able to hold back, Pete said, "Don't you trust me to handle my job? I would have brought you up to speed just as soon as I had any real information - just like I did."

"Of course I trust you to do your job. However, it is not your job to determine who is friend or foe when it comes to the warehouse and the artifacts we collect. I'm the one with the experience, I'll be the one to decide if someone is guilty. In this case, the evidence is clear: Myka is no longer a friend. If you can't deal with that, then you need to let me know."

With a sigh, Pete said, "See, Artie, that's your problem - you don't listen. I never said that I believe Myka is totally innocent, however, I just can't believe that she'd willingly betray us. I've got this feeling that there's more going on here than we think. We don't know her motivations - heck, we don't even know how H.G. managed to cause that accident! Why can't you just give people the benefit of the doubt, instead of instantly believing the worst about them?"

"Because every time I've done that, I've gotten stabbed in the back! But you know what, we'll try it your way. Myka's the sweet, innocent Good Samaritan who just happened to have stumbled across a fugitive and, out of the goodness of her heart, decided to help her escape justice. Yes, let's entertain that fairytale. It should be an amusing distraction while we wait for the other shoe to drop!" Artie crossed his arms, wincing as the motion aggravated the gunshot wound in his shoulder, and returned to staring morosely at the highway.

"So that's it then? You're just going to sit there and pretend that Myka has never risked her ass to save yours - hell, she saved the whole world two days ago, and I bet you didn't even say thank you. Hasn't she earned even a little trust from you, Artie?" Angry now, Pete found himself wishing he'd never even bothered to tell the other man about what the spectrometer had revealed. Sure, holding back might have bitten him in the ass if he'd been wrong, but he just couldn't shake the feeling that things weren't as dire when it came to Myka's involvement as Artie wanted to believe.

"I don't give my trust away for nothing," Artie gruffly replied. "I've had my suspicions about Agent Bering's loyalties for a while now. I'm sorry; I should have said something. Perhaps then you wouldn't be so easily fooled by this seemingly innocent behavior."

Slamming on the brakes, Pete turned and gaped at Artie. "What? What do you mean, you've had your suspicions? This is Myka we're talking about, Artie. Not Mata Hari."

"I don't have to explain myself to you, Pete. Your job is to take orders. Snag 'em, bag 'em, and tag 'em. In this case, you are going to get us to that truck stop in a timely fashion so we can stop H.G. and Myka before they try to destroy the world - or worse!"

Pete looked as though he wanted to argue the point, but one glance at Artie's determined expression forced him to stoically mutter, "Yes, sir."

The remainder of the trip was spent, again, in silence.

Arriving in Cottonwood, they spotted Myka's rental car in the parking lot of the motel. Cautiously, they approached the vehicle and, after ascertaining that it was empty, they headed directly for the manager's office. A little cajoling combined with the flashing of Pete's Secret Service credentials produced information that a woman matching Myka's description had rented a room, but had checked out early that morning.

Still, they took the opportunity to examine the room, which had yet to be cleaned. Inside, they found evidence that someone had been injured. Bloody towels, gauze, bandage wrapping, and a blood soaked blouse were shoved into the trash next to the bed.

Holding up the garment, Pete said, "Looks like H.G. got hurt in the crash."

"And how do you figure that, Sherlock?" Artie was rooting around in his bag, looking at and discarding several objects before he withdrew a simple, hand-held magnifying glass.

"Myka's shirt was blue cotton; H.G. had on white linen. It looked expensive, like this," he said, indicating the designer label on the inside of the blouse. "Myka wouldn't spend that kind of money for something as ordinary as work clothes."

"Be that as it may, I'd still prefer to be certain. If H.G. is injured, it will slow them down and prove that Myka is colluding with her." Artie sounded almost pleased with the prospect.

Raising the magnifying glass, he reached for the blouse. "Hold that up for me, would you?"

Doing as he was asked, Pete gamely displayed the garment for Artie's perusal. "What's that? Conan Doyle's favorite lens?"

"Not quite. It belonged to a forensic scientist named Edmond Locard. I'm hoping it'll show me who the blood belongs to."

"How's it work?" Curious now, Pete held the blouse away from his body, but moved in next to Artie and tilted his head as he tried to get a glimpse through the lens.

"It's quite ingenious, actually. You see, Locard postulated that, 'every contact leaves a trace', and in this case, that would be this!" Gingerly, he angled the lens toward Pete to display what had already begun to be revealed and, to Pete's obvious amazement, inside the garment, an image was forming. Hazy and made up of millions of tiny dust motes, the picture taking shape materialized into that of H.G., wincing in pain as blood leaked from a wound on her forehead.

"Whoa, that's so cool! Every cop should have one of these!"

"Well there's only one, and it belongs to the warehouse," snapped Artie. "All right, so H.G. is injured. Now do you believe that Myka's guilty?"

Looking uncomfortable, Pete replied, "I don't know, Artie. I mean, sure, she's gone way above and beyond simply rendering assistance, but still - maybe she didn't want to get regular authorities involved? After all, H.G. is a warehouse issue, right?"

"Then why didn't she call? I'm sure she still has your phone number? Why can't we get a hold of her? I know Claudia's been trying all night, and what? Nothing. She's avoiding us, Pete, and that tells me everything I need to know. She's guilty." As much as Artie wanted to let Pete's feelings affect his judgment, the hard learned lessons of the past kept him from latching on to anything positive. Nothing mattered beyond what he could see and verify; not Myka's heroics, not Pete's vibes, and not even his own paternal desire to believe in his agent.

"I don't know. Maybe her battery is dead. Maybe she knows something we don't. I don't know, that's the thing. Until I know for sure Myka's evil, I'm going to give her the benefit of the doubt!" With that, he thrust H.G.'s bloody blouse at Artie and stormed out of the room.

Sighing regretfully, Artie shoved the article of clothing into his bag. He remembered being that young once. Softly, he muttered, "I used to be just like you, Pete. Then I grew up. You'll have to, too, someday. I just hope you don't end up with as many scars as I have."

Outside, Pete looked around the truck stop, trying to think like his partner. Spotting a nearby diner, he grinned. "Everybody's gotta eat."

"Good idea. Let's go check it out," said Artie as he closed the door to the motel room behind him.

"Yeah? Great! I'm starving." Pete jauntily set off toward the diner.

"Food? You're thinking about food when there are two very dangerous individuals running around loose? We don't sleep. We don't eat. We don't even stop to pee until they're safely locked up in the Bronze sector!"

"Maybe you can go all Terminator and ignore things like exhaustion, hunger, and nature, but I'm just a regular human being, and my belly needs to be filled in order for me to operate at peak efficiency. I'm getting a burger with all the trimmings. If you're nice to me, I might let you have a fry."

Pete was determined not to let Artie's foul mood get in the way of what he considered his investigation. Mrs. Fredric had trusted him to handle it from the get-go and he was beginning to understand why. When it came to H.G. Wells, Artie reacted like a bull to a red flag. Pete didn't understand it; maybe it was because of the MacPherson angle, but sometimes, he had to wonder. Why was Artie so dead certain that H.G. was evil incarnate? In the beginning, Pete could understand his boss' reticence to accept H.G.'s good intentions, but up until the events inside Warehouse 2, H.G. had done nothing but prove her loyalty to all things warehouse related. It was strange, and strange things tended to make Pete's gut ache. He had a strong vibe, and the longer he worked this case, the more intense it became.

The diner was a typical greasy spoon. Locals occupied well worn seats at the counter while travelers filled up the booths. They were greeted by a middle-aged woman whose nonchalant demeanor bore the stamp of many years of work around rough and tumble truckers. The tag on her uniform top declared her name to be Gladys.

Pouring on the charm, Pete smiled at the woman and said, "Hi there, we were wondering if you might help us out?"

"Are you lost honey? Just give me a second and I'll get the map," replied the waitress as she turned to reach for something under the cash register.

"No, actually, we're looking for someone - two people. They'd be traveling together - a couple of women. One is about this tall -" He held his hand just about even with his own head. "The other is a bit shorter. Oh wait, here," he said, grinning goofily as he pulled out his cell and thumbed through the pictures stored in the memory. In one of them, he was standing between Myka and H.G. The shape of a pyramid could be faintly seen behind the trio.

Gladys took one look at the image and yelled, "Martin, get out here!"

At the far end of the diner, a pair of double doors swished open, revealing a massive mountain of a man.

"You need somethin'?" he drawled slowly as he eyed the strange men standing next to the waitress.

"These boys are looking for these women," said Gladys as she indicated Pete's phone. For some reason, she had put a particularly odd inflection on the word boys. "Why don't you go on ahead and give 'em the kind of help they need?"

Smiling smugly, Artie turned to face the approaching man while Pete extended his hand and said, "Hi, I'm Pete."

Martin took Pete's hand in his and shook it slowly, crushing it in his massive grip until Pete's cheerful smile began to falter. "Howdy. Welcome to Cottonwood, Pete. I hear you're lookin' for a couple of real nice ladies. I am sorry to say that you will not find them in this place, and honestly mister, I'd just take your old man and turn around and go back where you came from. Consider it a life lesson, son. Next time you pick up a bottle, remember what you lost." He spoke slowly, as if talking down to a very small, slow-minded child.

As Martin continued to crush Pete's hand, several of the regulars turned to watch the proceedings. Most wore similarly disdainful expressions. One called out, "What kind of a man beats a woman as pretty as that?"

Another responded, "Yeah, I sure as hell wouldn't be spending my time inside of a bottle with a woman like that to keep me busy!"

With one sharp tug, Pete managed to reclaim his mangled hand. "I think you may have me mistaken for someone else. My name is Pete Lattimer and I'm -"

"Son," interjected Martin menacingly, "Do you think I'm a blind man?"

"Why, no," Pete spluttered. "Of course not."

"Then do me a favor and don't play games. We both know why you're after them women, and I'm sorry, but even if I have to call the sheriff, I will make certain that you turn your ass around and march right out that door."

"Oh for heaven's sake. Now I know why the general IQ of this nation has sunk so rapidly. You're all idiots!" Artie thrust his way forward. "I am not this man's father and neither of those women have ever been married to him. They are fugitives!"

"Of course you'd say that, you're probably just as bad as your son," said Gladys as she reached for a nearby phone. "Now get out of here!"

"Pete, now would be a good time for you to show them your credentials," Artie muttered softly.

"Already ahead of you," Pete replied as he reached for his jacket.

Martin, spotting the movement, had had enough. "The lady told you to leave. As the owner of this establishment, I am exercising my right to refuse you service. Let's take out the trash, boys."

Somehow, between Martin's last word and Pete's hastily babbled, "Wait, wait, wait," the two warehouse agents found themselves bum rushed out the door. Once outside, they were surrounded by half a dozen very angry, very large men. One of them began to crack his knuckles.

"Now, you gonna go peaceably, or should I let Jimmy practice his WWF skills on your wife beatin' asses?" The man cracking his knuckles grinned in anticipation.

Pete tried reason one last time. "I really do think you're making a mistake -"

"Oh forget it, Pete. It's obvious that we're in Caveman County here. You're going to need to use words of one syllable or less in order for these hairless apes to understand you."

Wincing at the grumbles of anger coming from the men, Pete murmured, "Hey, you want to tone it down a little there, Artie? We're just looking for information, not a fight."

"No, I will not tone it down! If these people know what's good for them, they'll tell us what we want to know before they get into real trouble."

"Artie, please, just let me handle this!" Pete tried to smile reassuringly even as the men that were circled around them took a step closer.

"Why? Your way is what got us here in the first place!" Artie glared at the men. "If any of you have any brains at all, you'll tell us where they went; otherwise, I'll be forced to treat you like the brainless yokels you are."

The first punch knocked Artie's glasses so far across the pavement that they landed at the feet of one of their attackers who took seemingly vicious pleasure in stomping them into the concrete.

"Oh, were these yours?" he said as he picked up the twisted remains. "So sorry. I must have tripped. I'm sure you understand."

On his knees, Artie looked up in time to see the second punch that knocked him flat.

Meanwhile, as Pete watched Artie go down, he tried to back away and ended up stumbling into one of the men. The contact set off a flurry of blows. It was an almost even match - Pete's skill at hand-to-hand combat kept him from suffering the same fate as Artie, but there were too many for him to successfully hold off long enough to pull out his credentials.

"You know," said Pete as he dodged a kick and landed a solid punch to an attacker's gut, "I realize Artie's not the friendliest guy on the planet, but you have to understand, he's under a lot of pressure." Throwing aside a trucker who was a good six inches taller, Pete took the few precious seconds of breathing space to take in great heaving gasps of air.

Martin snorted and said, "Do you think we really care about that, boy? Your old man might think we're idiots, but we do know right from wrong, and what you did to your wife was wrong."

"Yeah," one of the men said. "I saw her arm all bandaged up. What'd you do, try to rip it off? Ain't you man enough to let a lady say no every once in a while?"

"What? No! Yes! I mean, I am not married to her. I'm not married at all, see?" Pete held up his left hand, displaying the absence of a wedding ring.

That threw the men a little. Every one of them wore some kind of ring - even Martin, who actually stopped to fondle the inexpensive silver band encircling his left ring finger.

"That's right. She wasn't my wife. They lied to you. Now, I'm going to reach into my pocket and show you my credentials." Slowly, Pete worked his way over to Artie's side while at the same time sliding his hand inside his jacket. Flipping open the case that revealed his status as an agent of the Secret Service, Pete said, "Now, how about we get some ice for my fellow agent and hear about these two women?"

Later, after being plied with some of the best homemade apple pie he'd ever eaten, Pete relayed what they'd learned to Claudia. "They were here." Briefly, he outlined the ruckus that had left Artie with two black eyes and an equally surly mood. "No, he's going to be all right. Anyway, they bought a minivan from the waitress, a Gladys Johnston. Plate's E837ZZ2. No, they didn't say where they were going. You find anything? Oh. Yeah, I guess that would take some time. Well, when you know something, give me a call."

Outside the car, Artie was ranting at Mrs. Fredric.

"I know we're not supposed to involve other agencies, but if we have an APB put out on the van, we'll catch them by tonight."

"I appreciate your desire to handle this matter quickly, however, it is the mandate of the regents that we not involve any local authorities in the apprehension of Agent Bering and Ms. Wells," replied Mrs. Fredric.

"That pack of spineless toadies wouldn't know a dangerous situation if it crawled up their asses and -"

"As amusing as your colorful anecdote might be, Agent Nielsen, I am bound to follow the dictates of the regents. Adwin Kosan was very clear in his wishes, and so we shall follow them until otherwise informed." The Farnsworth screen went blank.

Rolling his eyes heavenward, Artie muttered, "Fools. I am surrounded by gullible, incompetent fools!"

Getting into the car, he snapped, "Tell Claudia to go through every second of video footage she can find from here to the Canadian border. They're out there somewhere and I will not let them escape!"

Pete relayed the request. "She heard you. Oh, and she said not to forget to take your medication with food. Something about it causing severe indigestion otherwise."

Artie grunted, but did at least reach into his pocket and pull out a couple of pills. After dry swallowing them, he said, "Remind her that finding them is top priority. Whatever wild goose chase Mrs. Fredric has her on can wait."

In a fair approximation of Claudia's exasperated tones, Pete said, "Yes, Artie, I know, Artie. I'm on it, so just keep your shirt on, k?"

"Thank you. Finally, someone around here who listens to my orders!" Rooting around in his bag, Artie withdrew a case containing his backup glasses.

"Hey! I listen, too! I just don't always think your orders make sense."

Pete said goodbye to Claudia and then waited for Artie's inevitable response.

But this time, no lecture about who had the better skill set or experience was forthcoming. Instead, Artie just looked at him for a long, quiet moment before finally speaking. "So, you still think she's innocent?"

Pete winced. It was really tough to look at his boss and be confronted with the two rapidly darkening bruises on Artie's face. After what they'd learned from the people at the diner, Pete was beginning to wonder if this was one of the rare times when his "vibes" were wrong.

Unable to bring himself to completely condemn Myka, even after so much evidence to the contrary, Pete shrugged and said, "I don't know. It doesn't look good, I guess."

Seeming satisfied with Pete's answer, Artie turned and gazed out of the front window. "Head to the highway. Obviously, they aren't going to go back to the warehouse, so let's assume they're going in the opposite direction for now."

"Right. Hopefully, Claudia will have something for us soon."

As he drove them toward the freeway, Pete said, "You know, at least we have a little more information. We know for sure it's just H.G. who's injured, and from the way those guys were talking about it, she's not going to be pulling a Lara Croft on any artifacts anytime soon."

"That doesn't mean she won't be able to get Myka to do her dirty work. You just keep driving, Pete. Let me do the thinking, okay?" Artie closed his eyes and leaned his head against the door frame. Betrayal hurt so much, even when he was expecting it. Maybe he'd retire after this. Pete and Claudia were a good team. They'd take care of his warehouse. He should just step back and leave the tough stuff to the young people. Snorting softly, he knew that even if he were at death's door, he'd never give up his position at the warehouse.

"Come on you little bastard, just a little bit more and I'll have you right where I want you," Claudia growled as she typed furiously. Just about ten minutes before Pete's latest phone call, she'd stumbled upon something in one of the printed financial records. As a matter of protocol, the warehouse's daily computer logs were automatically printed and stored, and on a hunch, Claudia had grabbed the boxes containing the records for the week leading up to the incident with Warehouse 2. One document had stood out above the others, and the information it contained had sent her looking to confirm it in the computer archives. However, instead of finding a matching entry, she'd come up with a big, blank space.

Since the printed document held an actual date and login time for when the warehouse accounts had been hacked, Claudia wanted to see if it matched the one in the files they'd looked at a few days ago.

Now she was looking from the hard copy to the digital version and back again. "Well I'll be damned." The hard copy was clear as a bell - if the date on it were to be trusted, and Claudia saw no reason why it shouldn't be, then the money that had been used to pay the archeology students had been withdrawn from the warehouse accounts on the very same day that they'd sent Pete and Myka's consciousnesses back in time.

"And that means that H.G. was practically never alone. In fact, I think I remember watching her right about this same time," Claudia muttered as she chewed on the end of a pencil. Thinking hard, she called up the memory of that day and, exactly as she'd thought, she clearly recalled H.G. standing next to Myka, looking down at the agent with an expression that could only have been described as longing on her face. "H.G. didn't transfer that money," she whispered softly.

"I had suspected that was the case," said Mrs. Fredric.

Claudia nearly jumped right out of her skin. Spinning around, she squeaked, "Mrs. F! I - you didn't say you were coming?"

"I know. Now, you mentioned something about H.G. not having transferred the money? Do go on."

Flustered, Claudia said, "Well, I was doing like you asked, and going over the reports, and I noticed something in the hard copy." She held out the document and indicated the date and time stamp. "This isn't in the system's archived records. I went to look for it and it wasn't there. Someone deleted it. Anyway, when we were hot on H.G.'s trail, it never even occurred to me to check the login dates. If I had, maybe we wouldn't be where we are now."

"And why is that?" Mrs. Fredric raised one sculpted eyebrow and crossed her arms.

"Because H.G. couldn't possibly have transferred the money and been standing right in front of me, making sure Pete and Myka's brains didn't get scrambled by the time machine!" Standing, Claudia began pacing and gesticulating wildly. "In fact, now that I really think about it, I seriously doubt H.G. has the skills to hack the warehouse accounts. It took me weeks just to get a foot in the door, and I had help." As much as she hated reminding the stern caretaker of past indiscretions, Claudia was on a trail she couldn't ignore.

"You might not be wrong, Miss Donovan. Good work." Claudia's discoveries coincided with several long held suspicions that Mrs. Fredric had been unable to voice. Though she'd had no concrete proof, the caretaker's intuition told her that there were deeper troubles afoot, and that the events involving Warehouse 2 were only the most recent iteration of an ages-old struggle.

Beaming, Claudia said, "Oh, it was nothing. But now I have to start looking through hours of video for the van Myka and H.G. are in." She sighed. "Maybe I should make popcorn first."

"Belay that. I'll take care of it. You continue on the path you're on." Mrs. Fredric turned to leave, but stopped and then glanced back at Claudia, who looked fit to burst.

"Yes? Is there something else?"

Grimacing and bouncing in place, Claudia moaned "Oh, I don't know. Mrs. F, I really love my job here, you know that right?"

"Yes, please do get to the point, Miss Donovan."

"Well, would it hurt my position here if I were to admit to knowing more than I've said?" She looked so pathetically worried that Mrs. Fredric took a step toward her.

"Claudia, if you know something that could help determine what's going on, then you should tell me."

Sighing, Claudia slumped into a chair and murmured, "Myka called me earlier. Like, a lot earlier. I kind of helped them by not telling anyone."

Only momentarily taken aback, Mrs. Fredric calmly said, "I imagine you had your reasons. I'd appreciate it if you would share them with me."

In as few words as she could, Claudia related what Myka had told her about the accident, finding H.G. and the eventual discovery of the Pearl of Wisdom. "So, I was going to check the inventory to see if it was here, but I haven't had time, and now you're here so I thought I'd just ask you," she finished in a rush.

"All right; ask me."

Caught flat footed by Mrs. Fredric's calm acceptance of her actions, Claudia blinked and stammered, "Well, I - just what does the Pearl do, exactly? Could it have caused H.G. to go all evil and stuff?" She frowned and added, "And just how did someone get a hold of it, anyway? Isn't it here, in the warehouse? Or is it one of those 'more than one' things, like the Corsican vests?"

"Without divulging things that you are not prepared to understand, I can confirm that the Pearl could, indeed, be responsible for Agent Wells' recent betrayal." Mrs. Fredric's eyes narrowed and very quietly, so softly that Claudia wasn't even sure she really heard it, she added, "Though the fact that Kosan missed the signs of its presence worries me." Louder, she said, "As for the Pearl's whereabouts, it was added to the warehouse inventory the day I removed it from Leena the second time, and if Kosan did miss evidence of the Pearl's involvement, what else has evaded his and, by extension, my notice?" Concerned now that her agents were facing a drastically altered situation, Mrs. Fredric looked inward, searching through her connection to the warehouse to discover if anything was amiss. However, nothing concrete was forthcoming, only a further sense that things weren't as they should be.

"Okay, so if it was here, then there should be an entry for it." Claudia went to the computer and pulled up the inventory file. A few short keystrokes brought up the information, which contained the aisle location and shelf number for the artifact.

The two women shared a glance, and Claudia weakly said, "I guess I should go take a look, hmm?"

Listed in clear, bold lettering on the file were the words, "Status: Present on shelf."

"I believe I shall accompany you," said Mrs. Fredric.

It was the first time Claudia had heard any inflection to her voice since they'd gotten the original call to check on the whereabouts of H.G. and her security detail. Her tone made the hairs on Claudia's arms stand up - Mrs. Fredric was afraid, and that was never cause for celebration.

Together, they made their way down to the floor of the warehouse. It took some time, but they eventually found the Dark Vault at the end of a particularly long and cluttered aisle. Nervously, Claudia entered her pass code and waited for the doors to open. Once inside, they quickly made their way to the display where the Pearl was reported to be stored.

Pulling on a pair of purple gloves, Claudia reached for the box containing the artifact, toggled it open, and then, half-hoping, half-dreading what she'd discover, lifted the lid.


Chapter 12

Throughout the day, Helena's mood darkened. Each time she glanced over at Myka, she was reminded of the way she'd hurt the other woman. She'd left a very impressive shiner on Myka's cheek, and the angry red line of the cut only seemed to grow redder and angrier as the day wore to its end. Even the memory of the sweet kisses they'd shared earlier couldn't alleviate her guilt.

Retreating into silence, Helena pulled inward, barely answering Myka's queries with much more than a single word or grunt until sometime around four in the afternoon, when she drifted off, almost gratefully falling into Morpheus' arms.

On the other side of the car, Myka fretted. Her thoughts turned circles within circles over the puzzle of Helena and how ,why, and when she had become such a danger. With no easy access to her usual support network, Myka felt like she was running in all directions, unable to pick just one avenue to investigate. It didn't help that her emotions were playing merry havoc with her thought processes, causing even the most logical of ideas to morph into fantasy-filled dreams of lust and romance.

She hadn't noticed Helena's ill mood until it was too late. By the time Myka realized that the other woman was brooding, H.G. Had fallen asleep. Good going there, girl. You're doing a bang-up job of supporting your partner in this, aren't you? In the absence of Pete, Myka had come to think of Helena as a kind of stand-in partner as they had deconstructed the events of the last several days. I still think it's utterly adorable how concerned she was over whether or not she'd set up a scholarship for Gabrielle Tilson. After promising Helena that they would look into it, Myka had then asked, "Why would you think you'd done such a thing, anyway?" This had led to Helena confessing that she'd had moments of lucidity - periods where she had awakened in strange places, or found herself staring at a plate of food she hadn't remembered ordering. It seemed that the Pearl only exerted itself when it was necessary.

Startled by Helena's admissions, Myka had then asked, "So why didn't you call m-us? We were all certain you were evil. If you'd have called during one of these lucid periods, maybe we could have figured out what was wrong."

Blankly, Helena had stared at Myka and then, had shaken her head and said, "You know, I don't think it really occurred to me that anything was wrong. I'm quite certain that I felt that the job was done and that we had all returned home for some well deserved rest. I thought everything was perfectly normal."

The more she thought about it, the more Myka became convinced that the Pearl of Wisdom was one of the most dangerous artifacts with which she'd ever dealt, and when this situation was over, she would have to give careful deliberation to her rash decision to leave. Now that she was almost certain that her own judgment had not been compromised, after all; she knew that her talents were sorely needed by Warehouse 13.

Another hour passed and traffic began to increase as she neared civilization. Every time a patrol car whizzed by, Myka prayed that they weren't looking for her; that Artie hadn't issued an APB for the van's plates. As grateful as she'd been to Gladys, she knew that once Pete had gotten an opportunity to show his credentials, the charade would be up, and what little information the kindly waitress had gathered about them would be willingly shared. We'll have to ditch the van soon. We can use taxis once we're in Chicago, and if we have to leave, we can always get another car from a used car dealer.

As afternoon settled into dusk, Helena stirred, stretched and then said, "Have we reached our destination?"

Myka grinned and said, "Is that your very polite way of asking, 'are we there yet'?"

Perplexed, but very amused by the child-like inflection Myka had placed on the latter portion of her query, Helena raised an eyebrow and replied, "Well, I don't know that I sounded so completely impatient, but yes, I am curious to know if we are stopping soon. I simply must find a WC."

"Awww, do you gotta go to da bafroom?" Myka said teasingly.

Startled, and now quite concerned, Helena sat forward and gave Myka a good, long look. After a moment, she said, "While I do not believe the blow you sustained was sufficient to addle your wits, I'm concerned that I may have dislodged a tooth. Are you quite all right?"

Unable to hide her mirth, Myka burst out laughing. "I'm fine, Helena. I guess there's a bit of a generation gap showing right now." As she launched into a lecture about modern car culture, including references to families going on longer and longer vacations that led to their children demanding frequent bathroom breaks and updates on destination ETAs, Myka found herself wondering if she and Helena would always have to cross such a cultural divide.

Helena, on the other hand, was fascinated. Since MacPherson had released her, she'd done as much studying on the modern world as she could, but there was only so much information she could absorb before she'd needed to just get out and experience it. After that, it had been easier to let her past recede as new memories and new skills quickly took the place of the old. Some things, such as learning to use a cell phone or a microwave, had come naturally; others, such as driving, had taken work, but had been worth the effort. The one area where she had failed to excel had been the computer - modern machines were simply far too complex for her to be considered anything other than a novice user.

They were still discussing the relative merits of car travel versus horse and buggy when they passed a sign stating that they were nearing the turn off for Wells, Minnesota. A quarter of a mile later, there was a second sign advertising a local campground.

Myka glanced over at Helena and said, "Shall we stay over in your town?"

A glib reply was at the tip of Helena's tongue, but as Myka had moved, her hair had flipped away from her face, revealing that the bruising had spread and now engulfed her cheek, a portion of her jaw, and most of the area under her eye. Self-loathing hit Helena like a bucket of manure, spoiling the good mood she'd been enjoying. Shrugging halfheartedly, she said, "If you think it's wise."

"I do. You may be the one who has to use the restroom, but I'm starving." Myka grinned and jokingly chanted, "I'm hungry, I'm hungry, feed me or I'm gonna starve to death." Laughing, she said, "If my parents had a nickel for every time I made them stop and get me something to eat while we were on vacation, they'd be millionaires." Out of the corner of her eye, Myka watched as Helena seemed to slide back into her black mood. "Hey, are you ready to grill hot dogs on a stick, make s'mores, and suck down all the lemonade you can drink?" When no answer was forthcoming, she reached out and cupped her hand over the back of Helena's neck. "C'mon, it'll be fun. I promise not to hoard all the chocolate."

Slowly, Helena responded to the coaxing tone of Myka's words as well as the light, gentle scratching on the nape of her neck. Making an effort, she said, "While I am relatively certain I know what two of those are, I've no idea what a s'more is. Enlighten me?"

"Pure, unadulterated heaven. And probably terribly bad for us, but it's a traditional camping out food." Myka took a second to glance over at Helena and grinned. "You should feel honored, since I'm going to eat refined sugar for your benefit." Thoughtfully, Myka added, "I seem to be capable of doing a lot of things I don't normally do, for your benefit. I wonder why?" She grinned and teasingly tugged on H.G.'s ear, causing Helena to duck her head and blush.

Gathering her dignity around her like a cloak, Helena straightened, shaking off Myka's teasing fingers and assumed a regal air. "I don't know. Perhaps it is because you have fallen prey to the notorious charms of H.G. Wells. I am given to understand that they are somewhat legendary."

"Oh really?" Myka's eyebrows rose dramatically. "Just how legendary are we talking? I mean, am I going to have to check your bedpost for notches?"

"Of course not. That would be crude," retorted Helena. She smiled slyly. "Besides, I've always preferred simpler, less destructive means of keeping tallies. How about you? I'm sure you've had your fair share of suitors."

The teasing statement drew Myka up short. What am I doing? Who am I to even think I could measure up to anyone who's shared H.G. Wells' bed? I mean, this is the mind behind some of the greatest novels of all time! All the warmth of the last few minutes vanished under a cold hail of nerves. Feeling slightly nauseous, she gave Helena an apprehensive smile and said, "Oh, I don't think you'll need to worry about that. I'm not exactly memorable."

"I find that incredibly hard to believe. Anyone fortunate enough to know the pleasure of your company would surely find the memory of you to be deliciously distracting. I know that I haven't been able to get you out of my mind since the first time we met at gunpoint."

Though she was flattered by Helena's words, Myka couldn't help but think back on her failures as a lover. Sam... Aloud, she said, "You know, the last person I loved got himself killed because of me."

More than anything, Helena wanted to pursue the question of Myka's feelings. To hope that the other woman could feel something as deep as love for her made Helena giddy. Instead, she tucked the warm sensation away to cherish later and allowed a slow, sensuous smile to cross her lips. "Are you trying to warn me off? Because if you are, I'm afraid it's a bit too late for that." Helena shifted in her seat and carefully reached across to take hold of Myka's hand. Pulling it from it's resting place on Myka's thigh, she drew it toward her, turning it up so that she could brush a delicate kiss across the back. "You'll just have to trust that I can take care of myself."

Myka was so enchanted by the contact that she almost missed the turnoff for Wells.

The sun was setting when they finally pulled into their campsite.

Bemused, Helena watched as Myka raced about, unloading several bags and lining them up on a nearby picnic table.

"What is all this stuff? And did you happen to bring along something we could use to dig a latrine?" said Helena as she poked among the bags and boxes.

"What? Oh, no, of course not. Here, take this," replied Myka, holding out a small flashlight. With a confused look, Helena accepted it. Using another flashlight to illuminate a nearby porta-potty, Myka then said, "There's your WC. Watch out for spiders."

After thumbing on the light, Helena gave Myka a rakish grin and said, "Well, this should be interesting." Setting off for the vibrantly blue structure at a jaunty pace, she began to whistle an infectious tune that Myka soon found herself echoing.

While Helena occupied herself with the call of nature, Myka got a propane lantern set up and lit and then started to clean the one-site barbecue pit.

Soon, she had a pile of coals lit. It would be awhile till they were ready, so Myka turned her attention to setting up their sleeping area. Clearing the remaining shopping bags from the back of the van, she located, unboxed and rolled out the air mattress. She was just getting the nozzle of the 12-Volt air compressor fitted into the plug of the bed when Helena returned.

"Well, I can now firmly state that outhouses haven't changed at all," said Helena with an air of cheerful disgust.

Myka chuckled. "That gross, hmm?"

"It was in need of a good cleansing, yes. Rather reminded me of the jakes in the ancient Bulgarian castle in which I had the extreme misfortune to become trapped inside." Helena's gaze grew unfocused as she was drawn back in time.

"Oh, this I just have to hear. Do go on," said Myka as she waited for the bed to fill.

Helena sighed. "I had gone to retrieve an artifact, of course. The Duke was supposed to be out of town, but returned suddenly, forcing me to act quickly. My choices were quite limited - it was either the jakes or the underside of the portly gentleman's bed. I'm sure you can understand why I chose the airier, though much smellier location."

As Helena described the adventure, Myka found that she could easily picture a younger H.G. clinging to the side of a castle, grimly determined to hang on until the duke had gone away.

"Did you ever get the artifact?"

"Of course - it was a simple thing really, but oh, so troublesome. A razor belonging to a chap named Sweeny Todd, if you know the legend?"

"The demon barber of Fleet street," said Myka. "I'm constantly amazed at how many so-called legends have an artifact that comes from a real event."

Once air mattress was full, Myka capped it off, unplugged the air compressor and turned off the ignition. Grabbing the sleeping bag from the nearby picnic table she made her way to the passenger side of the van and opened the side door. "Here, help me with this."

Handing one end to Helena, who took it with only a slightly amused expression, Myka climbed inside and then reached for the other end of the sleeping bag. Together, they worked to open it out over the mattress.

"There, all the comforts of home." Myka dusted off her hands and grinned in satisfaction.

Eying the extra large sleeping bag, Helena felt a rush of sensation race up her spine. One bed, one set of covers - dare I assume that we are, once again, sleeping together? Desire, only slightly tempered by guilt, warmed in her belly. Dare I let my need for pleasure overtake my quest for justice? She glanced at Myka and was caught by the look of frank appreciation in the other woman's gaze. Do I even have a choice, anymore? I set us on this path; do I have the courage to keep to it? Helena wasn't so certain. Banter, teasing, even head-spinning kisses were one thing, but letting herself feel the emotions that had been locked away for so long would be inviting a vulnerability that Helena wasn't prepared to expose just yet.

"It does appear rather comfortable, though I'm surprised at the presence of only one sleeping bag." She tried to sound nonchalant, but her nervousness caused the statement to come out sounding a bit haughty.

Myka blinked in surprise at the sharp tone to Helena's query. "Well, I could have bought two, but it would have ended up costing almost double this one. Honestly, I didn't think you'd mind. If there's a problem, I can always just cover up with my jacket."

Hastily, Helena rushed in to reassure the other woman. "Oh no, no there won't be a problem. I was just, surprised, is all." She winced at how awkward that sounded. "Oh, bollocks! Can we just forget I said anything and make supper now?"

Warily, Myka withdrew from the van and came around to check the barbecue pit. The coals were just about done. "If you're certain? I mean, I don't want you to feel uncomfortable. I know it's not a lavish set up by anyone's standards, but I thought it would be better than sleeping on the ground."

Stepping up beside her, Helena reached her good hand out and tangled her fingers with Myka's. "It's fine. I'm an arse." She looked around, taking in the rustic, tree lined pathways, wide, star-filled skyline, and the warm glow of the campfire. "It's beautiful, really."

Myka smiled shyly. "It is kinda nice, huh? I mean, if we weren't fugitives and all, it might be kind of fun, right?"

Helena's answering smile was just as shy. "I can assure you that I have not had this much fun while being on the run in at least a hundred years."

"Sweet talker," Myka whispered as she started to lean closer to Helena.

"It's one of my many, many skills." Drawn in, Helena raised her hand and brushed a stray lock of hair from Myka's face. Hesitant, feeling as though she were touching one of Tesla's coils, Helena allowed her fingers to graze the arch of Myka's eyebrow, and then stroked down to find the shell of her ear.

Myka gasped at the intensity of the touch. Leaning into it, she reached out and hooked her fingers in Helena's belt, drawing her so close, a piece of paper couldn't have passed between them.

They stood like that, perched on the precipice of their desire, until Myka noticed that Helena was trembling.

"Hey," she said, tipping her head forward to lightly rest against the other woman's forhead. "You okay?" They were both breathing heavily.

"I - I don't know. This is - you shouldn't trust me like this, Myka. I'm no good." Churning, turbulent emotions spun like pinwheels through Helena's thoughts. Flashes of memory of Christina, of MacPherson, of the past few days, of everything that Helena had ever done wrong, or had taken from her gathered upon a set of scales, and one side was dangerously tipped against her. Yet even with all that forcing her to a standstill, she simply could not let go of Myka, could not stop stroking the other woman's hair, face, neck, and ear. She was warm; pulsing with the kind of life Helena had only ever dreamed about, and she was right there, in her arms, and eagerly welcoming her touch. It was right, and yet, it was horribly, horribly wrong.

"For someone so incredibly smart, you can be monumentally stupid, Helena." Myka pulled her into an embrace and gently she encouraged Helena to lay her head on her shoulder. Holding her close, she pressed soft kisses against the smooth flesh of her forehead. "We've all done things we aren't proud of, Helena, but this time, someone used you. You aren't the villain here – you're just human, like anyone else."

"You wouldn't say that if you knew some of the things I've done, Myka. Terrible things; there was a time when I was quite mad, you know, and I'm not altogether certain if that madness has entirely left me." She tried to find the strength to reject the comfort Myka offered, but Helena could only sink further into the loving embrace. Even as tears gathered in her eyes, even as her throat burned with the words that would reveal her deepest shame, she fought. I cannot. It is my burden to bear. I will not expose her to the nature of my crimes. Not here. Not like this.

"I know what you did, Helena. Elizabeth Arnold left a diary."

Startled, Helena tried to shift away from Myka. "No." Elizabeth had been one of the few agents she'd let get close to her while she'd been at Warehouse 12. She was also the only one privy to the details of Christina's murder. How many nights did you hold me and keep my demons at bay, Elizabeth? How many times did you save me, before you were consumed by my grief? I loved you, but never the way you wanted. That's why you died. I never saw Robin's Arrow fly, but you did, and you pushed me away even though I was not supposed to be in that section of the warehouse. If only I hadn't mentioned finding a reference to Orpheus' Lyre. You never did understand that I couldn't give up – that finding my way back to Christina was all that mattered. Ah, Elizabeth, I am sorry. Truly, I am. How you must have hated me, to leave behind a record of my confession.

Afraid now of how that knowledge would change Myka's opinion of her, Helena continued to fight Myka's embrace. "Please tell me that she did not reveal all my sins. I couldn't bear it if you knew how black the stain on my soul truly is!"

Myka refused to let her go. "She was very honest in her opinions of you and what you did to those men." Myka had found the diary in a dusty box hidden deep in the back of the archives of Warehouse 12. Agent Arnold's descriptions had been dry, factual reports that had left nothing out – pages of details regarding the dozens of injuries suffered by the six men who had murdered Christina Wells. Put together, it created a picture of terrible brutality. When Myka had first encountered it, she'd been horrified, but Agent Arnold's diary also contained a horrific account of the rape and torture of Sophie, the brave housekeeper who'd tried to save Christina's life. There had been one further revelation, one that had, at the time, given Myka great pause. Elizabeth Arnold had been deeply, unabashedly in love with H.G. Wells. Even though there were very few entries in the diary that dealt with Agent Arnold's life outside of the warehouse, she had included several mentions of evenings spent at Helena's London flat. Myka had read between the lines and understood the depth of emotion Elizabeth had felt for Helena, and she'd also finally begun to comprehend just what it was she herself was experiencing. It had been an epiphany, on many levels. And it was probably one of the reasons why I felt so betrayed in Egypt.

"I can't say that I wouldn't have done something similar, if someone had hurt the people I cared about. Those men were animals and deserved to be put down like rabid dogs."

On a ragged breath, Helena whispered, "I lost her twice. No matter how hard I fought, she slipped right through my fingers. I couldn't save her. Every night for weeks afterward, I closed my eyes and watched her die over and over again, and I couldn't do anything to stop it." She pulled away from Myka and looked up, her eyes glinting diamond hard in the lantern light. "They had to die for what they did - that was certain. But I needed to make them suffer; make them feel all the pain Christina and I did. In the end, I even failed there, because they all died long before their torments were supposed to end."

Listening as Helena spoke, Myka felt a further understanding blossom; an awful insight that led her to whisper, "You used the time machine to go back to that day, didn't you? You were Sophie. You had to live through all of that – you were the one they violated." She knew she was right without Helena even having to respond.

"I had to go; I had to try. She was my daughter; my little girl - my angel. I had to save her, and I failed!" Helena covered her face as sobs wracked her body. Collapsing, she barely felt Myka's strong arms encircle her, catching her and drawing her close, holding her up as she wept for all that she had lost.

It was in this moment that Myka realized that she had slipped beyond the boundaries of attraction and into the realm of love. For even as Helena became a thing of frightful beauty, she loved her, she wanted her, and she needed to touch the icy heart of the woman who felt so close, and yet, so far away.

Tenderly, Myka held on to Helena, cradling her close until, eventually, her tears dried. Only then did she urge the distraught woman to go and rest until dinner was ready. While the hotdogs cooked, she took the opportunity to activate her new cell and sent a single, simple instant message to Claudia.


Chapter 13

It could be considered very anti-climactic, Claudia supposed sullenly as she glared down at the sight of a small, silvery pearl nestled in a bed of silk.

"Well, that's awkward," she murmured.

"Interesting," was all Mrs. Fredric said.

"You don't suppose there's more than one, do you?" At this point, hope was all Claudia had to cling to because she wanted so much to believe in Myka's innocence. Oh just be honest with yourself – you want H.G. to be a good guy because she's cool and Myka likes her.

"I have never heard of more than one Pearl." Mrs. Fredric grew thoughtful as she examined the gem. Something about it perplexed her, and the more she looked at the gem, the more she realized that there was something not quite right about it. So much of what she suspected greatly disturbed her, and even though her suspicion was built on thin threads of evidence, the ramifications would be dire. To have something concrete would be both a relief and cause for alarm.

"Miss Donovan, would you try putting the pearl into a containment bag."

"Okie dokie." Shaking open one of the self-sealing foil bags, Claudia removed the pearl from its cushion. "Here goes nothing," she said as she turned her head to the right, squinted, and let go. There was a soft thunk as the gem came into contact with the bag, but nothing else happened. Neither the bright flash of light nor the crackle of energy she had come to associate with the containment of an artifact had occurred.

Mrs. Fredric quickly pushed aside any surprise she might have felt and nodded slowly. "As I suspected. It is a fake. Come along, Miss Donovan. There is much to be done, yet." She spun on her heel and headed back for the office, leaving Claudia literally holding the bag.

Feeling a wave of relieved excitement crash over her, Claudia just about dropped everything and raced to follow the caretaker, but suddenly, she stopped, turned back and quickly checked the display next to the artifact's resting place. "Curiouser and curiouser," she muttered as only the log in date was available. To all appearances, the Pearl of Wisdom had never left the warehouse. When Claudia caught up to Mrs. Fredric, she relayed what she'd discovered.

A warm rush of pride ran through Mrs. Fredric, and some of what she felt was reflected in her words. "You continue to show good instincts, Miss Donovan. Your initiative in this matter is noted."

Navigating their way back to the office, they immediately headed over to the computer terminals with Mrs. Frederic leading the way. The Warehouse caretaker quickly took a seat and began inputting several commands.

"What are you doing?"

"I am attempting to discern when the Pearl was removed from the Warehouse. Because Leena was so terribly damaged by its effects, I logged in the artifact myself. We can assume that someone removed it some time after that."

"I see," said Claudia distractedly as she watched the older woman hunt-and-peck her way through the various databases. Though she itched to be able to push her way in and take over, she knew better than to try. Instead, she grabbed another chair and opened her laptop, intending to start on the video footage from the highway cameras. What greeted her though was an instant message window containing only a ten digit number. Quickly, she closed the lid, but she wasn't fast enough.

Without looking away from her own screen, Mrs. Fredric said, "Have you found something?"

"Um, no, not really. It's just some spam, probably," replied Claudia with feigned nonchalance. She actually had a pretty good idea that anyone who knew the particular screen name to which the message had been addressed was someone she'd friended. Given the situation they were facing, Claudia was willing to lay some pretty good odds that the text had come from Myka.

Turning away from her work, Mrs. Fredric just gave Claudia a long, penetrating look. "I would assume that an advanced user such as yourself would have the proper precautions in place to prevent such unwanted intrusions."

Smiling weakly, Claudia shrugged and said, "Well, you know spam - it's everywhere."

"Miss Donovan, do I look like I was born yesterday?"

Quaking at the stern tone in Mrs. Fredric's voice, Claudia managed to stammer, "N-no, of course not."

"Good. Now, obviously someone has sent you a message. Perhaps it is nothing; perhaps it is a clue. Don't you think it's worth investigating?"

Silently apologizing to Myka, Claudia nodded and said, "Yes, Mrs. F. I'll get right on that."

"Listen man, it wouldn't matter if you put me on a caffeine drip. Artie, I'm exhausted. I need sleep. So do you. For crying out loud, you're still recovering from being shot two days ago!"

"And who's to blame for that? It's just more proof of how dangerous H.G. Wells is. Don't you see? We need to stop them before they -" For just a brief moment, an expression of profound pain flashed across Artie's face. "Before they hurt someone else."

Pete sighed and said, "You know, I get that you're bent about H.G. I can even understand why you're suspicious of Myka's actions, but come on, Artie, do you really think that she'd let H.G. hurt an innocent? No way! Not Myka. Think, Artie – Myka's not MacPherson! Whatever caused her to throw in with H.G., it's not because she's a crazed lunatic bent on destroying the world."

Wearily, Artie rubbed his face. Grabbing hold of his temper with both hands, he calmly said, "Even if you're right, Pete, and let's, for the moment, pretend that you are – that doesn't excuse the fact that Myka has acted in a way that is contrary to her training. I know you want to believe that your partner hasn't gone to the dark side, but I've had a lot more experience dealing with these things, and believe me, anyone – anyone can be turned." Softly he added, "Myka's betrayal hurts because we trusted her, but if it helps, I promise you, Myka will get a chance to explain her actions. H.G.'s fate, however, is out of my hands."

Frowning, Pete said, "This is really getting to you, isn't it?"

Without any leads to follow, Pete and Artie had remained on Interstate 90, hoping that somehow, their path would cross that of Myka and H.G. It was exhausting, time consuming work to stop at nearly every single gas station, get out, and question the attendants. So far, they'd gotten a lot of false positives and one sure lead – a young woman manning the counter at a convenience store remembered selling a package of Twizzlers to a woman matching Myka's description. Other than that, there'd been nothing, and now, it was nearing sunset. Pete was so tired he could barely count to two, and to make matters worse, they'd just passed a sign advertising a Motel 6 five miles ahead.

"No, it's a walk in the park on a sunny afternoon. Of course it's getting to me! Myka was one of the best agents I've ever worked with, and she turned her back on the warehouse. That's why we need to keep going. Put aside things like sleep and force ourselves to work until it's over. You've got to be willing to keep going, even if you're staring down the Grim Reaper. Things like this, this so-called injury?" He indicated the sling cradling his wounded arm. "It's nothing. I'm fine. We'll stop and get some coffee and be as good as new. That's just the way it's done in the warehouse."

As determined as Artie sounded, Pete could tell that the older man was bluffing. For most of the last two hours, he'd been nodding off, unable to do more than stare bemusedly out of the front window. Contrary to his words, Artie looked like he was hanging on to wakefulness with both hands and all of his teeth. Shaking his head, Pete said, "Artie, come on, would you just act like a real human being for once? I mean, honestly, do you really think Myka and H.G. are going to turn all Terminator and keep going all night?"

Artie grunted. "I would."

"Well, that's you. Myka's not like that. If H.G. is hurt as badly as those guys at the diner said, then Myka's going to do everything she can to help her get better, and that means stopping to rest." The truth of that statement was something that he felt so strongly that it wasn't just a vibe, it was a certainty.

The conviction in Pete's statements must have resonated with Artie, because he sighed and said, "Fine, fine. We'll stop and rest. But we must, we absolutely must leave at dawn."

"Thank you." Pete pulled into the lane that would take them off the highway and into the next tiny town. He didn't even know its name. All he cared about was that it had a motel, a restaurant, and a bed with his name temporarily stamped on the pillow.

Slumped in the room's only chair, Artie watched Pete sleep. His own rest would come shortly, but for the moment, he was content to wallow in his own thoughts. So much of the last few days had sped by, and so many events that he had feared would come to pass had come true, leaving him to face the knowledge that he had once again placed his trust in an agent who had, ultimately, betrayed him. Wearily, he wiped his face and then, softly murmured, "So when's it going to be your turn, hmm Pete? Are you going to stab me in the back, too?" No, no, he wouldn't. Pete's a good guy. He just wants to believe the best in people, like you once did. Artie sighed sadly. Even now, I can't help but hope he's right about you, Myka. The warehouse is your home. I know this. I felt this. Then you left because - He had to work hard to push aside his anger at H.G. Wells. Damn it, that woman has ruined everything!

Artie continued to sit, lost in the bitterness of his melancholy until the muffled chiming of his Farnsworth dispelled the mood. Scrambling to his feet, he staggered over to his bag, removed the device and opened it.

"Hello, Agent Nielsen, how are you feeling?" Adwin Kosan, looking as unruffled as ever, peered up at him expectantly.

Taking a deep breath, Artie grimaced and said, "Okay, okay. A little tired. A little sore. But good to go. I assure you, Mr. Kosan, Agent Lattimer and I are doing all that we can to apprehend the fugitives."

"Good, good." Kosan looked pleased. Leaning closer to his Farnsworth, the regent smiled pleasantly and said, "Why don't you tell me how that's been going for you."

The calm, sympathetic tone was a welcome balm to Artie's ruffled ego. For the first time all day, he began to feel as if someone had finally remembered his importance to the warehouse and how he was the one to whom everyone should look for leadership and guidance. His opinion was the one that counted, damn it! Sitting up straight, he quietly began to detail everything that had happened since he'd been apprised of the situation. If a bit of his irritation at being excluded came through, well then so be it. By the end of the conversation, Artie once again felt like he was in control of the situation.

"I trust you to do what needs to be done, Agent Nielsen."

"Thank you, sir."

"Good hunting, Agent Nielsen." Kosan signed off, leaving Artie to drag himself to bed for a few, much-needed hours of sleep.

"What do you mean, she's not dead? Are you that incompetent that you can't even handle a simple seek and destroy mission? Fine, fine, blame it on me. Next time, if you can't do the job, just say so!" The phone came down with a jangling crash. Anger wreathed like a cloud, filling the room. "Well, I guess if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself." Inside a desk drawer was a beautiful, pearl-handled pistol. It would be messier, but it would definitely get the job done.

The smoothness of the grip was very satisfying. Even more pleasant was the simple click, click, click of the bullets as they settled into the magazine. Once loaded, the gun was lovingly slid into a holster and then tucked away. Plans would have to be made; no sense in having things go awry a second time.

On a single piece of vellum, he began writing down everything he would require to carry out his mission. In neat, dark print, several items appeared, each of which was just a single step that would lead to the utter destruction of H.G. Wells. Now all he required was the bait. As he reached the bottom of the page, from another part of the building, a voice called out, "Sir, you need to come see this!"

He sighed. Good help really was terribly difficult to find. Exiting the office, he made his way to a bank of computers. On the screen, two simple words flashed over and over.

"Knock, knock."

"Ask and ye shall receive." He wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth. "Call the pilot. Tell him to be ready to leave in half an hour."

"Yes, sir!" The man jumped up and ran off to do as he'd been told.

"Enjoy your last days, Wells. Your time is over."


Chapter 14

Claudia was easily able to trace the ten digit number contained in the text to a disposable cell phone. Checking the activation date convinced her that it was an attempt from Myka to reach her. However, she was still reluctant to reveal this new information to Mrs. Fredric. Ten full minutes passed as she sat, staring at her laptop, chewing on her lip and pretending to trace some obscure iota of data. She wanted to trust that Mrs. Fredric wasn't like Artie – that she wouldn't rush headlong into the wrong conclusions – but it was difficult.

"Would it help if I promised to reserve my judgment with regards to any actions Agent Bering may have taken in the last twenty-four hours?" Mrs. Fredric finally said quietly. Gently, she reached out and placed her hand on Claudia's shoulder. "I know you want her to be innocent in this, Claudia. I cannot promise there won't be any future repercussions, but for now, I am far too convinced that there is a greater danger for us to face."

Taking a deep breath, Claudia said, "Thanks, yeah, that does help. I mean, this is Myka. She's not capable of being all 'crazy evil bad guy'." She put air quotes around the term and grinned. Picking up her phone, she punched in the digits she'd already memorized and then held her breath, waiting to see what would happen next.

It was answered on the second ring. "Myka?" A moment later, Claudia gave Mrs. Fredric a gleeful thumbs up. "Hey, I gotta tell you something, but you gotta promise not to hang up, okay?"

On the other end of the line, Myka gamely replied, "Okay, shoot."

"Okay, here goes – one, I had to tell Mrs. Fredric about you and, two, she's standing next to me right now." Claudia spoke rapidly, crossing her fingers and hoping the next thing she heard wouldn't be the dead air of a disconnected call.

"Oh. I guess I'm in pretty big trouble, aren't I?" Myka said wistfully. "Did you tell her that the Pearl of Wisdom was involved?"

Mrs. Fredric must have heard something of what Myka had said because she gestured for Claudia to hand over the phone. Grudgingly, the younger woman did.

"Agent Bering, first let me offer you my gratitude for your quick actions in regards to saving H.G. Wells' life."

Clearly surprised by the statement, Myka stammered, "Oh, of course, I couldn't just leave her there." Then she sighed sadly. "I am sorry about those men, though. I wish there was something I could have done for them."

"You did everything you possibly could in a very difficult situation. Now, I realize that you are operating under some suspicions that may place your trust in the warehouse and its representatives in jeopardy, but I am asking that you listen to what I have to say before you take any rash actions." A plan, one that was rapidly evolving because of the unusual, and yet extremely fortuitous circumstances, began to take shape in Mrs. Fredric's mind.

The tiny scraps and fragments of information that Claudia had been able to track down went hand-in-glove with things that the caretaker had long observed. Someone had been working to undermine the efforts of the warehouse, and that someone would stop at nothing to achieve their selfish goals. The more Mrs. Fredric deconstructed everything they'd dealt with since MacPherson's reemergence the year prior, the more she was certain there was another shoe waiting to drop.

Cautiously, Myka said, "All right. I'm listening."

"I am in possession of information that has not been shared with anyone at the warehouse. Within that information, there are rumors – just whispers really - of a conspiracy to strip the warehouse of its most valuable artifacts and sell them to the highest bidders."

"Right. That was MacPherson's plan - he wanted to see the artifacts being used, instead of locked away. I don't see what this has to do with someone trying to kill Helena." Myka was obviously trying not to sound impatient, and only partially succeeding.

"Ah, you see, it wasn't just MacPherson who felt that way. Throughout history, there have always been those, including regents, who have sought to use the warehouse for their own personal benefit. It was assumed that they'd all been long discovered and dealt with, but recent events lead me to believe otherwise." Mrs. Fredric relayed the stunning information calmly, as though she were discussing the weather instead of airing the warehouse's dirty little secrets.

"Okay," Myka drawled slowly. "I'm not sure I understand where this is leading, but I'm still listening."

Mrs. Fredric actually smiled. "You are, at the moment, an unpredictable asset, Agent Bering. It is well known that you have tendered your resignation as a warehouse agent, which means you now come solely under the aegis of the Secret Service. Therefore, I am requesting you as the agent in charge for a newly created VIP protection detail. It will be a field assignment, one in which I'm afraid you will have very little backup and will have to rely solely upon yourself as no other agents can be spared for duty. If you choose to accept, you will work directly for me until such time as this situation is resolved."

Myka tried to read between the lines of what Mrs. Fredric was asking. "Are you saying that you want me to stay with and protect Helena?"

"Correct. All the information we have leads me to believe that her life is very much in danger. It is very likely that she has information that could reveal something about those who are plotting against the warehouse."

At that, Claudia looked up in alarm. While Mrs. Fredric had been talking to Myka, the young agent had gone back to work trying to trace the hack into the warehouse accounts. One of her inquiries was bearing fruit in the form of an IP address located in Chicago.

"You mean someone deliberately wrecked the Hummer?" said Claudia, aghast.

Her question was spoken loudly enough for Myka to overhear. "I take it the crime scene techs found something?" she asked.

"Yes. The remnants of an explosive device was found and analyzed. According to the report, both passenger tires were detonated, causing the vehicle to veer off the road and roll into the ravine. A secondary device had been set to destroy the gas tank, but the crash caused several wires to come loose, thus sparing Agent Wells' life." Mrs. Fredric almost smiled as she unleashed her final lure to bring Myka into her plan. Some days, it was good to be the caretaker. This was about to be one of them.

"Agent Wells?" Myka and Claudia spoke at the same time.

"If, as you say, the Pearl of Wisdom was used to subvert Agent Wells, then anything she did while under its influence cannot be held against her, nor used to change her status as a warehouse agent. There will have to be a full investigation of course, but for now, I don't see why Miss Wells' credentials should be suspect."

Claudia cackled gleefully. "Oh just wait until Artie hears this! He's gonna blow a gasket!"

Sternly, Mrs. Fredric said, "At this time, you are not to speak of this to anyone other than myself or Agents Bering and Wells. You must continue to act as if we are only seeking the capture and return of H.G. Wells."

"But what should I tell Pete and Artie, then? I can't stall them forever. Heck, it won't even take me five minutes to figure out where Myka and H.G. are once I find the van on the video," said Claudia glumly.

Myka interjected with, "Let me get this straight – Helena and I are to stay away from everyone associated with the warehouse except for you and Claudia?"

"Yes, Agent Bering, that is exactly what I am saying. Now, I assume that you have some plan other than evading Agents Lattimer and Nielsen?"

"Well -" Myka drew out the word.

"As I suspected. I will not ask you to reveal what you are planning; however I do hope that if you decide that you can trust me that you will keep me informed as to any discoveries you might make."

"I can do that."

"Good luck to you, Agent Bering." Before Mrs. Fredric could end the call, Claudia grabbed the phone.

"Hey, I got some info for you." Quickly, she outlined the discovery of the fake Pearl, as well as what little information she'd gleaned from the records, including the recent discovery of the IP address. "I'm going to see if i can get a physical location on that computer. Right now, I only know it's somewhere in Chicago. I'll call you when I know more."

"Okay. Listen, don't worry about telling Pete and Artie about the van - we'll ditch it tomorrow." Myka sighed softly. "I just wish I could apologize for the little situation we left for them in Cottonwood. I hope the townspeople weren't too rough on them."

Claudia sniggered, having gotten a very abbreviated version of what had happened at the diner. "Yeah, you're gonna have to do some big time groveling when this is all over. Anyway, I gotta go, so take care, and tell H.G. that I'm glad she's not evil, or dead for that matter, okay?"

"Well, the dead part I can confirm - I'll have to get back to you on the evil part," said Myka teasingly. "In all seriousness, Claudia? She's just as much of a victim as we are. I can't even begin to tell you how much her actions over the last few days have sickened her."

"Well, you make sure she knows that I'm not mad, okay?" It was such a comfort knowing that neither Myka nor H.G. were on the wrong side of the Force. The relief that poured through Claudia was followed by an equal measure of exhaustion. "Oh, whoa. I need to find a bed, and soon. I think I just hit maximum overload on the awake-o-meter."

Myka laughed. "Get some rest, Claudia. It's been a long few days."

"Right. I'm off." Before she hung up, however, she was struck by a wild thought. Maybe if she hadn't been so tired, she wouldn't have said anything, but Claudia was often driven by her impulsive nature. Quickly, she added, "Oh, and Myka? Kiss the girl. She's worth the risk." Without waiting for a reply, she ended the call.

Only then did she realize that she'd spoken her well meaning advice in front of Mrs. Fredric. "Oops," said Claudia sheepishly.

Mrs. Fredric actually smiled. "I am not so old that I do not recognize the signs of attraction between two people. Should they choose to pursue it, I only ask that they remain professional while on duty."

"Y'know, Mrs. F, you're a lot cooler than you let on." Claudia grinned and turned back to her computer. She had a couple of more things she wanted to do and then it was definitely time to get some shut-eye.


Chapter 15

By the time they finally got around to eating, it wouldn't have mattered what kind of hot dogs Myka had purchased. The outsides were overly crispy and the insides were extremely dry, but they were warm, filling, and once drowned in ketchup and served with handfuls of potato chips, went down easily enough.

While they ate, Myka brought Helena up to speed on the conversation she'd had with Mrs. Fredric.

"Wait, so you're saying that we're both still active agents?" Helena looked so adorable with ketchup smeared on her lips and nose that Myka could barely stop herself from leaning over and kissing her face clean.

Frowning slightly as Helena's question broke through her pleasurable daze, Myka said, "You know, I'm not really certain. I think so? Maybe? I don't know. I suspect that by the time this is all over, even if our innocence is proven, we'll have to face some sort of review." She sighed and then shrugged in indifference. "Probation's not so bad - a few months of desk duty, followed by limited field work, and then, as long as we've proven ourselves, we'll be back up to full status in six, maybe seven months."

Helena nibbled on a chip. "Things were so much simpler in Warehouse 12. If an agent made an unforgivable mistake, they were transferred to the records and research facility in Outer Mongolia."

"Oh yeah," Myka nodded. "That happens here, too. I can't tell you how many poor schmucks I know that have been sent off to Alaska because they couldn't make the grade."

Dusting off her hands, Helena leaned back against the picnic bench and said, "Well, I suppose it might be interesting to learn how to mush."

Myka just gave her a look. "You sound like you actually want to get reassigned to the frozen north."

Shrugging, Helena replied, "It's certainly better than spending the next hundred years in the bronze sector, or worse." Helena tried not to think about the fate that the regents had planned for her. No one wanted to go to the Farm. Eternal bronzing was far more preferable to spending even a week inside the super secret facility.

Startled, Myka said, "There's worse than being turned into a real, live, version of Han Solo in carbonite?"

"Oh, that movie was rather good fun, wasn't it? I particularly enjoyed the part when that ape man put the automaton's head on backwards."

"I take it that you got roped into a geek movie marathon with Claudia and Pete?" said Myka as she started cleaning up their mess. There was just enough coals left to start a fire, and she intended to use them to enjoy a couple of cups of cocoa and some s'mores before they went to sleep.

"Oh, is that what that was called?" Helena smiled. "I just remember having Pete and Claudia lure me into Pete's room and plying me with copious amounts of popcorn, beer, and modern trivia."

"I hope you weren't too sick the next day. I just can't begin to imagine what kind of beer Pete might serve with popcorn. And I really hope he wasn't letting Claudia drink. It's illegal to serve alcohol to anyone under twenty-one." There was no question in Myka's mind that Pete had abstained. His sobriety was far too important to him for him to sacrifice just for the sake of a movie. As she spoke, Myka opened a small bundle of firewood and carefully fed small sticks to the coals until they caught, then slowly built the tiny flame into a generous, roaring blaze. The heat and light were a welcome addition to a night that was growing darker and colder by the minute.

Helena grinned. "I've not met a beer yet that didn't agree with me. Though I must say, American Pilsners have quite improved from my day. As for Claudia – since Pete abstained, who else was I to share my years of study and appreciation of the lowly hop with? Although, as I do recall, she wasn't nearly as enamored of the drink as I."

On the table, Myka laid out the ingredients for s'mores. "Well, I hope you like this, too." Skewering several marshmallows, she handed a stick to Helena. "Just hold it over the fire until the surface is golden brown. Or you can put it deeper into the flame, let the sugar burn, and use the gooey, charred remains. Either way is good." She demonstrated by first toasting one marshmallow, and then charcoaling the other. Both were then placed on graham crackers that had been topped with squares of Hershey's chocolate.

After crowning the whole mess with a second graham cracker, Myka presented the result to Helena. "Here, try this."

With her only good arm occupied with holding a skewered marshmallow, Helena improvised. She opened her mouth, leaned forward, and took a bite of the confection. The warm, sweet, sticky explosion of flavor and texture was incredible, but it was nothing compared to the expression of utter desire that burned in Myka's gaze when Helena's teeth grazed her fingertips.

Licking her lips, Helena said, "Delicious," and then moved in to take a second bite. This time, she lingered, sucking all remaining bits of chocolate and marshmallow from Myka's fingers.

Weakly, Myka said, "Here, try this one, too, so you can decide which you like better." Nervously, she scooped up the second s'more and offered it. As she had both hoped and feared, Helena again took small bites of the snack and then, once it was gone, licked Myka's fingers clean. Entranced by the sensation of Helena's lips and tongue on her fingertips, Myka ignored everything but the need to touch Helena. Letting her fingers linger on Helena's mouth, she traced the shape of the other woman's lips over and over until Helena spoke her name.

"Myka, come here." Both a plea and a command, Helena's request broke the haze of lust that had settled around Myka.

Letting her hand drop, Myka collapsed on the bench beside Helena. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable."

Helena just smiled wickedly. "Oh darling, you definitely do not make me uncomfortable." Abandoning her marshmallow to the flame, Helena settled her good arm around Myka's shoulders, drew the other woman against her, and leaned in close, lightly nuzzling the soft skin behind Myka's ear. "You are entirely too distracting, Myka Bering. Whatever shall I do with you?"

"How about kiss me?" Myka whispered brokenly as Helena nibbled on her earlobe.

With a final nip, Helena murmured, "What a wonderful idea." Slowly, she traced a winding path of gentle kisses along Myka's jaw and, by the time their mouths touched, they were both breathing hard. Gone was any tentative connection; this kiss was all about feeding the intensity of the passion erupting between them. Helena was fire, Myka her fuel, and together, they burned hotter than the sun.

Giving rein to the desire sweeping over her, Myka shifted until she was straddling Helena, her fingers buried in the other woman's thick, dark hair. Pressing their bodies close, Myka kissed her over and over, wanting - needing - to bask in the glorious sensations Helena's touch had awakened in her. It felt so right to let go and just fly, knowing that no matter what, Helena was right there, no more than a breath away. She opened her eyes and looked down to see Helena watching her, and smiled. "You feel so good."

"And you are exquisite," whispered Helena as she reached up to brush a stray lock of hair off Myka's face.

It didn't even occur to Myka that she shouldn't have allowed the incredibly sweet gesture; it was only when a fiery sting of pain shot through her cheek, forcing her to jerk back and hiss, that she remembered the massive bruise on the side of her face.

Helena's reaction was instant and dire. All desire fled from her as she was visibly reminded of the damage she'd done to Myka earlier.

"You should put some ice on that," said Helena, her tone businesslike, lacking anything resembling the passion that had so recently coated her words.

"Hey," said Myka softly. When Helena kept her gaze resolutely on the fire, Myka sighed and said, "Helena, look at me." Reluctantly, Helena glanced up, but couldn't meet Myka's gaze. Myka smiled and wound her fingers into Helena's dark hair. "It's all right, you know. It looks far worse than it feels." She scratched the back of Helena's neck lightly. "Stop beating yourself up over an accident."

"You're far too forgiving, Myka. I could have hurt you very badly." Guilt made Helena's voice harsh.

Myka chuckled ruefully. "I sincerely doubt that. Maybe if you didn't look like you'd been run over by a train, you might be threatening, but right now? Claudia might be more dangerous."

Despite herself, Helena found that a smile was edging its way onto her lips. "Is that a challenge, Agent Bering?" she asked archly.

Leaning forward, Myka brushed a teasing kiss on Helena's cheek. "Only if you want it to be." Again, she kissed her, lingering on the spot until Helena turned just enough for their mouths to meet, join, and then part softly.

Slowly, Helena reached up and delicately inspected the bruise. "I am very sorry."

Leaning into the gentle touch, Myka smiled and said, "I know." She yawned and then said, "Damn it, I was going to make us cocoa. And I didn't get any s'mores, either!" Then she frowned and added, "Plus, you never told me what was worse than being bronzed." Standing, she went over to the table and gathered up supplies for a couple more s'mores.

Helena stood as well. "You go ahead and enjoy your dessert. I've had enough. I think I'd like to get some sleep. As for the alternative to bronzing - ask me some other time. I don't really want to talk about the Farm tonight."

Hurriedly stuffing a piece of chocolate in her mouth, Myka shoved the rest of the food into a bag and said, "No, you're right. We should rest. Besides, you need to get out of those bandages for a while. Let me douse the fire and then I'll come and help you, okay?"

When Helena realized what Myka meant, she couldn't help but grin. "You just want an excuse to get your hands on me."

"You're damn right I do. And at this point, I'll take whatever I can get," Myka retorted teasingly, quickly putting out the fire and following Helena to the van.

After carefully unwinding the bandages from around Helena's ribs, Myka helped her to put on a simple cotton shirt and pajama pants and then get settled into a fairly comfortable position on the air bed. Snuggling in close, Myka slipped her arm around Helena's waist and said, "Comfy?"

Sleepily, Helena replied, "Perfectly."

"Good." Pressing a light kiss to Helena's shoulder, Myka closed her eyes and waited for sleep. The fire that burned within her couldn't be extinguished nearly as quickly as the coals had.


Chapter 16

Myka first became aware of the soft murmuring sometime in the middle of the night. It took several minutes for her to understand that the sounds coming from the person next to her were filled with fear and anguish, but when she did realize it, she immediately reached for Helena.

At Myka's touch, Helena shouted, "No, don't make me do this! I love her!"

"Helena! Wake up! It's just a dream." As gently as she could, Myka shook the other woman, but Helena remained locked in her nightmare.

Thrashing about, Helena struggled against an invisible captor and screamed, "Myka, run!"

Startled, Myka actually jerked backward and reached for her service weapon before she realized that Helena was still deeply asleep.

"No, you can't make me do this! Stop! Oh God, I can't make it stop! Run, Myka, get away from me! It's too dangerous, go!" Each word rose in volume until Helena sat bolt upright, shouting at the top of her lungs, her breathing fast and heavy.

"Helena!" This time, when Myka grabbed hold of the other woman, she made sure to prepare for any surprising blows, but none were forthcoming. Instead, Helena sagged into her arms, whimpering softly.

"Oh God, Myka. I killed you. I cut you and cut you until you were nothing but ribbons of blood and flesh, and still the whispers would not stop. They wouldn't leave me alone, Myka. They wouldn't let me free you, no matter how much you begged and pleaded with me. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." Weeping brokenly, Helena clung to Myka and rocked in place. "You should go. You should leave me here. Just get away before I actually give in to them. They're still there, poisoning my thoughts. I can feel them eating away at my sanity." She tried to push Myka away, but Myka only held her tighter.

"No, I'm not going anywhere. Nothing is going to take me away from you again, Helena. Not even you can make me leave." Drawing them down so that Helena's head was pillowed on her shoulder, Myka held her close and said, "You won't hurt me, Helena. I know you won't, just like I know the earth is round, the sky is blue, and the sun will rise in the morning."

"How? How can you be so sure of me?" Helena whispered.

"Because even when you were under the complete thrall of the Pearl, you couldn't do it. You couldn't pull the trigger, Helena. That's how I know. You're still in charge, even when it feels like you're not. You just have to recognize that and believe in yourself."

"And if I cannot?"

"Then believe in me. Trust me to trust you. Can you do that?" Slowly, Myka eased them over so that Helena was lying on her back and with Myka propped on her elbow beside her.

Looking up and seeing only the absolute conviction in Myka's expression, Helena finally began to believe things were going to be all right. Slowly, she smiled, took a deep breath and said, "I can try."

Returning the smile, Myka said, "Good. Now, just close your eyes and rest. I'll watch over you."

The grey light of false dawn was accompanied by a wet chill that ate through the cocoon of warmth that followed Helena out of the van. She'd awoken to find Myka snuggled against her, snoring softly, one arm wrapped protectively around her, the other shoved up toward the front seat as if reaching for the radio.

Picking her way across the road to the porta-potty, Helena tried to understand the good fortune that had found her here, in this strange, modern world so far beyond her own time. It was like a second life; a chance to try again. She'd never regain what she'd lost, but if fate were kind, perhaps now, she'd have the time to find something equally as precious. At the door to the outhouse, she paused and tried to imagine what it might be like, to wake up every morning as she had the last few. Fear and desire, need and guilt - these emotions wove within her thoughts, taking and giving hope, pushing her to run and yet pulling her to stay and be courageous.

How is it that I can risk everything to save my daughter, but letting myself love Myka the way she deserves frightens me so much that I'd rather face a hundred armed men than admit to her how much she truly means to me?

When Myka awoke, she smiled, stretched out her hand and murmured, "Helena?" When her palm met the cool surface of the sleeping bag, she opened her eyes in surprise.

Helena was gone. Sitting up, Myka was assaulted by a wave of dread. Had she been deceived again? Was the pearl only a ploy? Anger made her stomach clench with nausea.

"No, you will not do this to yourself. You will not let those thoughts screw you up," Myka whispered softly. "She'll be back. You know she will." Taking a deep breath, Myka let the torrent of worried thoughts go, knowing that if she didn't, anything she and Helena might share was doomed from the start.

I will not be like Artie - always jumping to conclusions, wrong or not. I choose to trust her. I choose to realize that she's probably just using the bathroom, like any normal person does in the morning. The silent pep-talk was comforting in its familiarity and slowly, the anxiety faded, leaving Myka to bask in a glow of anticipation. It was far too early to think about breakfast, and Chicago was only a few hours drive away, so really, they had all the time in the world. And I intend to make every second count.

Myka's faith was soon rewarded by the sight of Helena stiffly making her way back toward the van. Before Helena could reach the vehicle, Myka leaned over and opened the door. "Hey sleepyhead, you look like you're about ready to freeze your butt off. Get in here!"

The sight of Myka, her face alit with joy, her hair mussed from sleep, and a sexy-sweet smile shaping her generous mouth was all the invitation Helena needed.

As soon as Helena had closed the door behind her, Myka snuggled in close. Cautiously, she wrapped herself around the shivering woman, careful to avoid putting too much pressure on tender areas.

"Mm, cozy now?" she whispered, nuzzling the back of Helena's neck.

Helena shivered, only this time, not from the cold. It would be so easy to give in to the surge of desire that was coursing through her body, but guilt and self-loathing held her back, forcing her to mumble, "Yes, thank you." She didn't deserve this. None of it; not Myka's obvious affection and care, not her trust, not this chance at life - who was she to cheat fate, anyway?

Myka continued to nuzzle Helena's neck, breathing in the sweet, subtle remains of her perfume. She was entranced; the sensation of being so close to Helena, of feeling the other woman's tiny shivers each time her fingers grazed her belly, of hearing the soft, ragged breaths that Helena tried to control made Myka want nothing more than to break that control. In a moment of crystalline clarity, Myka knew that what she wanted was to lay Helena bare, to strip her of everything and then, to envelope her in the need that was lurking just under the surface of her thoughts.

Spurred by desire, Myka's nuzzles turned to nips. Helena gasped and arched her back, turning to glance at Myka.

"What are you doing?" she whispered, even as she was caught by the unvarnished hunger in Myka's eyes.

"Something that I can't wait one more second to do," Myka growled in reply. Was this their third? Fourth? Myka had lost count of how many times she'd kissed Helena, but this kiss - this kiss was the one for which she'd been waiting.

There was little Helena could do but be overwhelmed by the rush of Myka's passion. Pain flared and was quickly consumed in the fire of need; bruises, abrasions, even the deep ache in her shoulder and ribs were all but banished when Myka cupped her breast. Trying to swallow the groan of desire that burned in her throat, Helena whispered, "How can you want me now? After all that's happened, how can you still want this from me?"

Between kisses, Myka murmured, "You're kidding, right?"

When Helena didn't respond, Myka sighed and let her forehead rest against the other woman's. "You are the most infuriating, dangerous, crazy-making person I've ever met!" Pulling back, she looked at Helena and said, "You're also the most beautiful, entrancing, passionate, kind, and sexy person I've ever wanted in my life. You, Helena, you make me crazy with desire. At first, I thought I was just going insane - I mean, how could I feel this way, about you, the great, H.G. Wells? But then, then you crossed all those barriers of doubt, and you kissed me . You made me realize that crazy desires could be worth having."

"But I'm no good for you, Myka! I'm old; if not in flesh, then in my heart, I've grown sick with age, with all the terrible weight of the years that have pulled me into this time. I profess my innocence, but in reality, had the world ended, I don't know that I truly would have missed anything in it, except for you." Helena closed her eyes, unable to face the rejection she knew was coming.

Slowly, Myka allowed her hand to glide across Helena's breast and then come to rest over her heart. She could feel it beating heavily, each rhythmic thud acting as a goad for the words that welled up and spilled forth.

"This heart, Helena? Is this your evil, dark heart? Or is it only the heart of woman filled with fear and doubt?"

With slow deliberation, Helena lifted her injured arm and covered Myka's hand. Trembling, she whispered, "I've never been more utterly terrified than I am in this instant. You shatter me, Myka. For such an endless time, my life, my thoughts, my every second was grief; now, there is light, there is hope, there is -" She inhaled sharply and bit back a sob. The word just refused to be spoken. It sat there, glued to her tongue, taunting her with its simplicity. Yet no matter how hard she tried, she could not give voice to the feeling that had eaten away at the locks and chains around her heart. Instead, she withdrew, surrendering once again to her fear.

Angered by Helena's inability to commit, Myka pulled Helena around to face her, still mindful not to jar the other woman. "No, you don't get to run away again. You don't get to hide behind your guilt. And you especially don't get to make me fall in love with you and not expect me to fight for what I want." At Helena's dazed expression, Myka said, "You kissed me, Helena. I might have wanted it, but you crossed the line. Don't go backwards. Don't run away again." She leaned in, keeping their mouths just a breath apart. "Come to me, Helena. I'm here. I'm waiting."

Never in her life had Helena moved so quickly. The distance might have been miniscule, but it felt like a thousand years before she was finally kissing Myka. Ignoring the rush of pain from her injuries, she pulled on Myka until the other woman rolled on top of her, and In-between kisses, she finally whispered the three words that she'd been so fiercely gaurding. Like a litany of prayers, they filled the air around them until Myka's answering phrase blended with hers.

"I love you," became the music of their hearts even as they began the dance that would bind their bodies.

The kissing was, in a word, wonderful. From the tip of her nose to the bottoms of her toes, Myka felt like she was standing in a stream of pure electricity, and it was the most intense, erotic, and mind altering sensation she'd ever felt.

Helena kept doing this thing with her tongue that made Myka's stomach drop, and in return, Myka gave her hands free rein to explore the body under hers. She'd expected it to be a little like touching herself, but in reality, it was oh, so much better.

Still, when it came to the point where there were just too many clothes between them, Myka felt like a fumbling teenager as she awkwardly shoved her fingers under the edge of Helena's t-shirt.

Helena hissed as Myka's nails scraped a tender spot. "Slow down, love. I'm not running anymore."

Myka's smile was both shy and chagrined as she started to withdraw. "Sorry, sorry. Gosh, I must be crushing you. I should -"

"No!" Helena caught Myka and held her. "I like you just where you are. Stay," she coaxed, pressing teasing kisses all over Myka's lips, face, neck, and chin.

Myka moaned softly. "I need to touch you, Helena. I just - I don't want to hurt you."

A hint of Helena's usual brash nature surfaced in the sly, sexy smile that she gave Myka. "Then you'll have to be gentle. Take me slow and easy. Don't worry - I won't break."

Nervously, Myka nodded. "Okay. Slow, and easy - I can do that. So, first, let's get you out of this shirt." Carefully, she sat up, straddling Helena's hips as she settled in place. Of course, what should have been a simple task became monumentally complicated the moment she looked down and caught the look of raw need on Helena's face.

When Myka seemed unwilling to put actions to her words, Helena decided to lend a helping hand and reached down, grasped the edges of her shirt and started to pull. It was painful; almost too much so, but she ignored it in favor of the look of stunned arousal that washed over Myka's face.

"Here, let me -" Myka's voice was hoarse and she cleared her throat softly. "Let me do that." She took over, slowly pushing the shirt up and revealing more and more of Helena's creamy, pale flesh. When Helena's abdomen was fully exposed, Myka paused to reach out and run her fingers over the mottled black and purple bruise that the seat belt had left. Myka's touch was feather light, but not ticklish. Instead, she seemed to be attempting to map every bump, bruise, freckle and curve creating a mental geography of Helena's torso.

The more Myka touched her, the wetter Helena got, and when Myka finally pushed her fingers up under the rolled edge of the shirt to caress her smooth, silky breasts, Helena cried out, arching into the touch. God, she'd forgotten how incredible being made love to felt, and this - this slow torture was exactly what she needed to rediscover the pleasures of the body. There was pain with the pleasure, but somehow, that only made the experience more piquant; it gave it a realness that made the sensations sink bone deep.

"Feels so good," Helena whispered as Myka's touch grew bolder. "Yes, like that, just like that," she said encouragingly as Myka rolled her nipples around slowly. The touch was all too brief though, as Myka pulled her hands away, only to return again to finish removing Helena's shirt. Cool morning air ghosted over her body, raising gooseflesh and tightening her nipples. She gasped softly and tried to cover herself, but Myka stopped her.

"No. I want to look." Myka's demand was deeply carnal, causing Helena to flush with need.

Adopting a regal air, Helena let her arms fall splayed to her sides. "Then look. Drink your fill of this battered body, but when you are done looking - " her voice lowered an octave, "I want you to touch me. Everywhere."

If Myka had been a candle, she'd have melted under the heat in Helena's words, instead, she became a bonfire of need. Suddenly, she couldn't get enough of Helena. Touching her; feeling the smoothness of her face, her arms, her body, her breasts – each and every inch of skin was deftly and delicately explored, leaving no place untouched. "You're so beautiful," she whispered as she came to rest perched above her lover. "You feel like silk."

Helena kissed her. "You taste like heaven; and feel like home. Touch me again, remind me why being alive is wonderful."

So Myka touched her again; this time, paying careful attention to the places that made Helena flinch, or moan, or gasp. Where pain seemed to be the more prevalent response, Myka soothed the damaged flesh with soft caresses and then moved on to a new, less explored area of Helena's torso. However, simple touch soon became too little - she had to follow her fingers with her lips, opening up a whole new world of sensation that was both beautifully familiar and excitingly different.

The first time she stroked her tongue over Helena's right nipple, Myka thought she might have discovered nirvana. When Helena's hand came up to hold her head in place, even as she arched into the soft suction of Myka's lips, Myka could find nothing of which to compare the moment. It was everything; and yet, it still wasn't enough. She wanted, needed more.

Stripping away her own t-shirt, Myka pressed into Helena and it was almost enough; her heart was beating so hard she was sure it would break free of her chest. Helena's hands were hot where they held her, her blunt nails scratching and stroking the bare flesh of Myka's back.

They moved together; kissing, touching, moaning and whispering soft, needy words of desire and encouragement. It was as slow as Helena needed, but slower than she wanted. Every sense was afire with Myka, from the sharp scrape of Myka's teeth over her right shoulder to the cool slide of their cotton-clad legs as they moved and slid against each other.

At any other time, Helena might have taken charge; she might have rolled them over and pushed Myka's hands above her head so that she might feast upon the miles of curves and hollows that begged to be tasted, but in this moment - this first time where so much between them was a tentative road of need, joy, and pain, Helena remained content to let Myka set the pace.

However, she was not above tendering a little encouragement. Sliding her hands from Myka's shoulders, over her back and then, quickly, slipping them beneath the waistband of Myka's pants, she cupped the firm flesh she found there and roughly pulled Myka against her. Myka moaned and ground her hips into Helena.

"You, my darling, are wearing far too many clothes," Helena whispered as she nibbled on Myka's earlobe.

Gasping, Myka replied, "So are you."

By mutual, yet silent consent, they pulled apart. Cooled by the chill of the approaching dawn, Myka grew shy even as Helena eagerly shucked her remaining garments.

Now naked, Helena stretched out and waited, watching Myka through half-slitted eyes. Her pose was intentional; she arrayed herself like a queen, yet offered her body like a slave, her bearing containing the leonine assurance of a predator and the shy hope of a first time lover.

It was when Helena drew one elegant hand up and over Myka's thigh that Myka was finally spurred to act. With a deep breath, she shimmied out of her pants and then pressed herself up against Helena, grabbing Helena's wandering hand and placing it above her head.

"No," she said firmly. "Let me. Let me make love to you, Helena."

She followed up her words with actions. Gone was her shyness; now, her touches were all emboldened with a single-minded need to seek the hidden places of Helena's desires. She found them as a deep well, a place of silken wetness and roughly textured velvet. They were the pound of a million heartbeats, the connection of mouths, the broken gasps of breaths and the slow, slow flex of muscle, tendon and bone.

Sometimes, they were words - cried out, whispered, shouted, gasped in language that was both sacred and profane. In the end, Helena's desires were Myka's; their passion and joy fused as one as they joined together and soared, burning away everything but the pure bliss of the moment.

When the line between the far off places of climax and reality finally became clear, Myka and Helena lay entwined, breathing heavily and trading slow, languid kisses.

Myka sighed happily and flopped onto her back. "So, tell me why we didn't do this sooner?"

Helena grinned and rolled so she could rest her head on Myka's shoulder. Lazily, she drew her index finger up Myka's sternum, stopping only to lightly explore the peaks and valleys of Myka's breasts.

"I don't know - perhaps I should have taken the opportunity to steal a kiss when I saved your life. I rather suspect you'd have enjoyed it."

As she spoke, Helena's touches grew more intense, making coherent thought difficult for Myka.

In-between ragged breaths, Myka said, "I think afterward, I imagined you kissing me."

"And was it like this?" Helena leaned up and pressed a gentle kiss to Myka's cheek. "Or was it more like this?" Slowly, she dragged her hand up Myka's chest to wind in the hair at the base of Myka's neck and then drew her down for a long, heart-stopping kiss.

"The second one, definitely the second one," said Myka breathlessly when Helena finally let her go. Sitting, she reached into the front seat to retrieve a bottle of water. The cool liquid felt wonderful going down and, when she'd drank her fill, she handed it to Helena. Slowly, she settled back on the mattress, content for the moment.

Around the mouth of the bottle, Helena smiled mischievously as she drank. She was fairly certain Myka was about to come up with some reason why they should get up and start their day, but she wasn't about to let this moment pass without taking the opportunity to enjoy all of her new lover's considerable charms.

It was the logistics of the situation that were putting a bit of a brake on things. It was all well and good for Myka to enjoy some very, very pleasant acrobatics, but right now, Helena wanted Myka to be all hers. For too long, she'd been denied the pleasure of touch and now that she had been given the chance to experience the miracle of Myka's love, she was not about to ignore the opportunity to revel in it.

When Myka rolled onto her side to stretch, Helena found herself presented with the perfect opportunity. Sliding in behind her, she pressed herself against Myka's back and cupped her hand over the soft swell of Myka's belly. "Well, well, it appears that I've got you exactly where I want you," she whispered into Myka's ear while at the same time skimming her fingers down to scrape against the edge of Myka's short, dark curls.

Myka's breath exploded in a softly moaned, "Helena?"

"It's my turn, love," Helena said as she continued her touch.

Pushing into the caress, Myka reached behind her to grab on to Helena's thigh. "Oh, I see. Are we keeping score?" she asked breathlessly. She began to move into Helena's slow, maddening touch. "God, Helena, you're trying to kill me."

"If I am, you'll certainly die with a smile on your lips," Helena said teasingly as she drew out her lover's pleasure with slow, gradual strokes.

"You really are evil," Myka said even as she continued to thrust against Helena. "Oh, god, you are so, so evil." Then, Helena's touch shifted, becoming firmer, more demanding and Myka keened, "Good, oh, that's very good." Eagerly, she twisted her head back and to the side, moaning into Helena's mouth when their lips met in a hungry, open kiss.

Helena's bad shoulder fired off a flare of pain and she grunted softly. To minimize discomfort, she shifted her hips and pushed, encouraging Myka to roll onto her stomach. It was a risky move, but Myka seemed to know exactly what Helena needed and trusted her enough to acquiesce to Helena's silent demand.

"Oh darling, you are a peach," Helena murmured as she painted wet, warm kisses across Myka's shoulder blades. "A sweet, delicious, juicy peach, and I am going to enjoy every single bite," she said as she moved up to nip the tender skin where Myka's neck and shoulder met.

Dropping her head down to give Helena as much access as she wanted, Myka found that all she could do was to ride the wave of this intense, brutally erotic moment. Helena's hands were everywhere, caressing, scratching, squeezing, teasing and then, finally, thrusting deep into her, touching a rising core of need and setting it off like the Fourth of July.

The post-coital haze was a time Helena treasured. Generally, she preferred to spend it lounging around in bed, hand-feeding her lover delicate tidbits. It was a little odd, therefore, to find herself cradled in Myka's arms while she struggled to control a spate of uncontrollable sobs. Myka's touch was comforting, her voice soft and low as she murmured soothingly, but for some reason, Helena just couldn't stop crying and it was really beginning to irritate her.

"I'm sorry," she said, finally gaining control of her emotions. Propping herself up on one arm, she smiled weakly and said, "I don't really know what came over me. I can assure you that I'm not usually the type to burst into tears at the smallest provocation. You have no idea of how overwhelming it is to me to finally be able to touch you, to feel the heat radiating off your skin, to taste your breath as you kiss me, to hear your heartbeat as it pounds against your chest, and to smell the sweetness of your scent. For so long, I've been denied love - by my own will, it's true, but now, Myka, you, you make me want it all." She smiled shyly and said, "I believe in tomorrow because you let me love you today."

"Oh, Helena," Myka whispered. Tears pooled and fell unabated as she dipped her head down and pressed soft kisses to the top of Helena's head. "I love you. Your eloquence floors me; of course, you're a writer, so I shouldn't be surprised, but somehow, I always am. If I make you believe in tomorrow, you're the one who makes me want today. I've never been an impulsive person. I'm the planner, the coordinator – did you know that I used to take real pride in having all my socks and underwear color coded? Yeah, that's me. I'm a nerd; the geeky girl who sits in the corner, does her work, and only dreams of romance. Then you came along and, suddenly, all I can do is live in the moment. Every second I had with you was like the purest gold – so precious that I would lie awake at night and revisit them over and over, just so I could capture even a fraction of the emotions you stirred in me."

Sitting up, Helena chuckled and said, "We are quite the pair, you and I." She wiped her face and then did the same to Myka's. "Two sappy birds singing maudlin songs to greet the morning sun."

Myka sighed and folded her arms behind her head. "It's been a rough couple of days, Helena. We both need a break. Besides, if you can't cry over mind-blowing sex, what else is there to cry about?" She smiled teasingly. "Good God, that was fantastic. I mean, you really just - I just -" Myka's words faded off as Helena leaned over and kissed her slowly.

Helena was rapidly losing herself in the absolutely marvelous feeling of kissing Myka senseless, so when Myka began to push her away, she whimpered in protestation.

"I know, I know - I'd love nothing more than to stay here and make love with you all day, Helena, but we have to get out of this place before Pete and Artie find us." Gently, she brushed Helena's hair back, kissed her softly and added, "But I promise you, just as soon as we have some free time, you and I are going to continue this conversation - at considerable length!"


Chapter 17

A good night's sleep had done wonders for Pete's outlook, but Artie had only grown more irritated and short-tempered. Adwin Kosan's reminder about doing what was needed in this dire situation had settled in his mind like a stone, weighing his thoughts down and pushing against the tiny, burgeoning desire to give Myka a chance to explain her actions. Ever since H.G. Wells had been set free, Myka had acted as though the woman was just a misunderstood victim of circumstance, instead of the murderous harpy who'd killed a man without batting an eye. No, no, Adwin Kosan was right. He had to do what was needed.

"Come on, come on, we don't have all day! Those two are out there, and we need to bring them in soon before they do something terrible!" After his conversation with Kosan, Artie felt driven, more than ever, to hunt down the women that had dared to jeopardize the warehouse.

Pete finished brushing his teeth, rinsed and spat. "Patience, my man. We'll get them. Why don't you see if Claudia's found anything? It'd be nice to have a direction to head in, instead of running around like a couple of chickens with our heads cut off."

Grimacing, Artie retrieved his Farnsworth and thumbed the button that would connect him to Claudia. It rang for several minutes before the bleary-eyed visage of the warehouse's youngest agent appeared on the screen.

"Yo, dude, really? It's like, six-thirty. You think you could let a girl sleep in some?" she said groggily.

"You can sleep when Bering and Wells are in custody. Now, tell me you found them."

"I found them. They're in Wells, Minnesota. There's a campground there, and apparently, they keep a log of the license plates of all vehicles that enter and exit the park." She yawned as she reached down to the floor to retrieve her laptop. "According to what I've found, Myka and H.G. checked in some time around eight last night and are still there as of six this morning."

"Wells! Of course! I should have known they would do something as obvious as that!" thundered Artie as he wildly gesticulated with his good arm. "Get those park people on the phone! Have them take Myka and H.G. into custody right away! Tell them that they're wanted for drug smuggling or something, I don't care, just get them now, before they're gone again!"

"Drug smuggling, Artie? Really? Please, Myka'd have more class than that. And H.G. looks more like she'd be the type to be involved with high stakes art theft rather than something as dangerous as drugs," said Pete as he walked back into the room. Freshly shaven, dressed in clean clothes, he looked like he was ready to handle anything.

"I'm improvising. Deal with it. Now, Claudia, if - and that's a very big if - Myka and H.G. manage to slip through the net, I want to you freeze Myka's bank accounts. I happen to know she's got more than enough saved up that would allow her and Wells to vanish for a very long time."

Claudia frowned, but grudgingly said, "You got it, Boss." Glad you had one last chance to hit the ATM yesterday, thought Claudia as she looked over Myka's bank statement before freezing access to the assets in the account.

Out of view of the Farnsworth, she hurriedly texted Myka. The message was short and very much to the point: GET OUT NOW.

"Good, now, is there anything else you need to tell me?"

Grimly, Claudia said, "Yeah, Mrs. F said to tell you that an explosive device caused the tires on the Hummer to blow out and that there was a secondary device set to destroy the gas tank, but it didn't work. Also, I found something odd in the warehouse financials - I'm tracking it down now, but I think the terminal used to hack the accounts is somewhere in Chicago."

Waving his hand, Artie said, "Never mind about the accounts - the bean counters will handle that. Focus on the bomb." He shook his head ruefully and began to pace. Thinking aloud, he muttered, "She must not have counted on the terrain being a factor in the accident. No, no, why would she think that? Of course, of course, she must have had a partner – perhaps one of MacPherson's men – yes, yes. Exactly! He was delayed in reaching them and when Myka showed up, all her plans had to change. Damn her, damn her to hell! Two good agents died because of that woman. It's utterly unconscionable how H.G. has turned a fine agent like Myka Bering into a traitor!" Coming to a halt, Artie gruffly said, "This is it – this is the proof that H.G. is a ruthless killer who will stop at nothing to get what she wants! Luck's been with her so far, but not anymore. Now, we're going to see to it that her luck comes to an end."

Across the room, Pete had looked up when Claudia mentioned the bomb. I knew it. His attention was further drawn when she mentioned the hack to the warehouse accounts. For some reason, that made his "vibes" jangle quite loudly. However, he knew that if he tried to ask about it now, Artie would only override his curiosity with the need to get Myka and H.G. into custody. Maybe once that was done, he and Claudia could have a discussion about it. He frowned and rubbed his stomach. Something just felt really off about the whole situation, and it was starting to make his gut ache.

Ignoring Artie's muttering and ranting, Claudia said, "I don't really have too much more to report. Mrs. F wasn't exactly full of the big details and long reports when I talked to her. You could always call her and ask for yourself. I've still got a lot of work to do." She grinned a bit sheepishly. "I guess Mrs. F seems to think I'm her personal hacker now. She's got me chasing down a bunch of stuff back here and if I don't come up with something soon, I'm afraid she's actually going to be mad at me."

"But I need you on this case, Claudia! You've got to focus on what's important, here! And catching Bering and Wells. should be the only thing you think about." He sighed, his face taking on a saddened, hang-dog expression. "I really don't want to think about what could happen if either those two suddenly decided to expose what they know about the warehouse to the world."

"Oh come on, Artie!" Pete said at the same time as Claudia said, "Do you really think Myka would go that far?"

"I really can't say. Yesterday, I wouldn't have said Myka would have given two seconds of her time to H.G. and now look at where we are. Who's to say what that woman's thinking now? All I know is that she's acting like a traitor, and traitors shouldn't be allowed to walk free."

Pete's stomach grew even more sour at the comment, and he had to restrain himself from mentioning Artie's own status as a traitor – and the fact that he continued to remain free. Myka, I wish you'd told me what was going on. I'd have helped. He sighed. I just can't believe that this is all some big conspiracy between Myka and H.G. Myka's not like that. She plans things down to the last detail and this has the feeling of something thrown together at the last minute. No, I don't buy it. The more he thought about it, the more he began to believe that he was right. Still, there was nothing he could do but follow Artie's orders. However, if he had a chance, he was definitely going to talk to Claudia and have her do a little digging around just for his own peace of mind. If H.G.'s somehow involved, there'll be a trail somewhere maybe even something back at Leena's. Maybe Claudia can contact Leena and have her look around H.G.'s room.

In the background behind Claudia, something made a very loud, very annoying sound. "Oh! That's one of my things for Mrs. F. I gotta go. I'll call you back in a bit after I get in touch with the folks in Wells. Hopefully, I'll have good news for you.

Pete looked at Artie, smiled and said, "So, we're going to Wells?"

"No, we're off to Timbuktu. Of course we're going to Wells!" Muttering something about stupid questions, he gathered up his bag and headed out to the car.

"You know, after this is all over, I think I am going to need a nice, long vacation someplace very sunny, with lots of beaches and babes in skimpy bikinis," said Pete as he followed Artie outside.

Claudia's text message couldn't have come at a less opportune moment for Myka and Helena. The jangling buzz of the phone's silent mode was lost in the scramble as they attempted to dress without becoming distracted by each other's naked bodies that were now fully illuminated by the morning sun.

"Oh, this is impossible!" Myka grumbled bitterly as she finally forced herself to turn away from Helena. "Now, get your pants on before I'm tempted to forget all about our need to ditch this van!"

"You are supposing that I have the forbearance to abstain from appreciating the absolutely exquisite view I currently have of your very lovely backside," said Helena laconically. "I find that I simply lack the motivation to dress."

"Helena! Don't make me turn around! I won't be held responsible for my actions if I turn around, and you know we can't afford to linger here too much longer." Myka's tone was both outraged and pleading as she maintained her position.

Surely God wouldn't be so cruel as to bring so much joy into Helena's life, only to rip it away from her by forcing her to spend the rest of her days locked away in the Farm? Shivering, Helena pushed away any thoughts dealing with the place for those whose punishment required something infinitely more severe than simple bronzing and concentrated on wiggling into the clean clothes that Myka had so kindly purchased for her. Once that was done, she said, "You are free to look; I am no longer indecently exposed."

Turning, Myka smirked and said, "What a shame." Leaning down, she captured Helena's lips in several long, lingering kisses. "My turn, I guess." Pulling back slightly, she whispered, "Close your eyes and no peeking." Grinning Helena acquiesced to Myka's plea and received one last, lingering kiss for her efforts as Myka quickly shimmied into her pants and top.

Adequately dressed, they both headed for the restrooms that were located some distance from their actual campsite. There, they washed up, brushed their teeth and hair, and generally made themselves look less like they'd spent the night in the back of a shag van and more like traveling vacationers. It took a considerable amount of makeup to hide their bruises, and the result left them both looking like they were a couple of promising apprentices in the Tammy Faye Baker school of cosmetics. By the time she was done applying the last of her concealer to Helena's brow, Myka was more than thankful for all the tips she'd picked up in New York on the Man Ray case.

Once back at the van, Myka busied herself with cleaning up camp while Helena walked around, taking in the quiet, subtle beauty of the campground.

"We should return to this place when we've more time to enjoy it," she said as she rejoined Myka.

Smiling, Myka took a moment to enjoy the privilege of stepping into Helena's personal space for the express purpose of stealing a kiss. She eased away and smiled. "Yeah, I'd like that. We'll rent a Winnebago and do it in style."

Helena laughed and replied, "What, you're not interested in sleeping under the stars?"

"As long as sleeping under the stars includes bugs, rain, wandering forest critters, and the possibility of drunken frat boys crashing through camp, then no, I'm not interested." Myka wrinkled her nose and then said, "However, I am very much interested in spending several days holed up in a very comfy camper with you, several bottles of good wine, and nothing to wear but our birthday suits!"

Helena laughed brightly and said, "I knew there was a reason I loved you."

Myka's smile turned shy. "I don't know if I'll ever get used to hearing that." She raked her fingers through the hair that was brushing Helena's brow. "You are wonderful and I love you madly." Kissing Helena's cheek, she whispered, "We have to go."

Helena turned her head so that she could nuzzle Myka's ear. "I know. Our idyll must end, no matter how much I wish it not to." She smiled and pressed a soft, delicate kiss against the place where Myka's ear met her cheek. "Perhaps tonight, we'll find a new Eden to explore."

Distractedly, Myka said, "Uh huh. Eden. Explore..." Her mind drifted off into a realm of wonderful dreams until suddenly, she was struck by a random thought that made everything about the moment completely and magically surreal. "Dear God, I just realized that I'm being romanced by H.G. freaking Wells! Holy shit." Blinking dazedly, she smiled goofily and said, "My dad is going to freak out when he hears this."

Never before had Helena felt such apprehension at the idea of someone's parent learning of her involvement in their child's life. "Why do I fear that this is somehow worse than trying to convince Artie that I am innocent?" Then she shook her head. "Wait - wouldn't they begin to question your sanity should you attempt to introduce me as who I truly am?" As she spoke, she turned to head to the passenger side of the van.

Myka shrugged. "Not really. I mean, it might take them a few minutes to get over the fact that you're a woman - but other than that, no, my parents actually know and mostly understand what I do. They sort of had to, after my dad fell victim to Poe's Notebook last year." They got into the car, buckled up, and got ready to leave. That was when Myka noticed the blinking light on her cell phone.

Reaching for it, she thumbed it on, read the text, noted the time it had come in, checked the current time and then cursed softly.

"What is it?" asked Helena. Myka handed her the phone. Checking the times, Helena added her own curses to Myka's.

"Well, if they haven't hauled us away by now, then we've still got time to get out of here." Resolutely, Myka started the engine and pointed the front end toward the exit. "Chicago, here we come!"

Sitting in the car outside of a small, dingy gas station, Pete tapped an air drum solo along with the music on the radio while he waited for Artie to return. As the music came to an end, he realized that his Farnsworth was ringing. Killing the radio, he opened it, revealing Claudia's worried face.

"Hey! Is everything okay? I can't get Artie to answer his Farnsworth."

"Everything's a-okay, except for a massive case of too many antibiotics," said Pete, making a face and pinching his nose in an unsubtle indication of Artie's gastronomic troubles.

"Oh, well, I wanted to let him know that I haven't been able to get anyone on the phone at the campground. So far, it's just been a recording listing rental rates. Since we're not supposed to involve the local authorities, I wasn't sure what to do."

Pete pondered the idea and tried to intuit what Artie might want in this case. It was important that Myka and H.G. be apprehended - that wasn't in doubt - however, it was also necessary to keep the warehouse and its actions as under wraps as possible. Finally, he said, "You did the right thing. Just try to track them as they leave the campsite. Hopefully, we'll get a break soon."

"Okay." She sighed glumly. "I still can't believe that Myka's supposedly a bad guy."

Pete nodded. "I know. It doesn't feel right. Hey, what was that about the warehouse accounts you mentioned earlier?"

"Oh, that? Well, as per Mrs. F's instructions, I started digging through all the recent reports and I kept finding these odd little traces and half-hidden trails. Anyway, when I put them all together, I realized that there was just no way that H.G. could have been the one to hack the warehouse accounts. On the day that it happened, she was here, with me, watching over you and Myka while you guys were off enjoying the Kennedy era."

Pete frowned. "So? Couldn't she have just hired a hacker to do her dirty work?"

Claudia shrugged. "I don't know. I mean, I'm not even sure she'd know what that was. Don't you remember that I had to teach her how to surf stuff like Google and eBay? And, that hacker would have to be damned good to get through all the stuff Fargo and I installed." She scratched her head and then added, "Honestly, I just don't see it happening."

Pete rubbed his chin and murmured, "That fits with the vibes I've been having, too. Damn. What is going on here?" Silently he wondered if anything in the last few days could be taken at face value. Even H.G.'s actions, as much as I'd prefer to just think of the crazy bitch as a crazy bitch, she just didn't act like someone who was in the middle of carrying out a grand scheme to destroy the world before we left for Egypt. Hell, if I had to say what I thought about H.G., it'd be that she was finally allowing herself to be happy!

"I don't know, but Mrs. F's been on the warpath about something, that's for sure," said Claudia.

"I bet. Hey, have you or Leena checked out H.G's room? Maybe there's something in there that'll tell us more about what's going on."

Claudia looked completely surprised by the idea. "No, but you know what, I'll call Leena and have her check into it. Anyway, right now, I should really get back to work. Tell Artie I hope he feels better."

Nodding slowly, Pete cracked a crooked grin and said, "Sure. Have fun. Let us know if anything breaks." He closed the Farnsworth and sat there, lost in thought, until Artie rejoined him.

As they got back on the road, Pete relayed Claudia's information about the campground, which caused the older agent to go on a ten minute rant about how insane it was that a place like that was allowed to operate without twenty-four hour, seven day a week personnel on duty and available to give personalized customer service at a moment's notice.

Pete snorted. "Hey, it's the economy. No one has any money for anything extra right now."

"It's not extra, it's vital. Vital! Oh well, there's nothing we can do about it now. Just keep on the highway. Maybe we'll get lucky and they'll get a flat tire."

Pete started the car and headed for the freeway entrance. "You're the boss, Artie."

"Exactly. I am the boss. Remember that, and we'll catch them in no time."

Claudia was doing the greatest dance of geek joy she'd ever done. Not only had her hastily cobbled little ICE program sniffed out the physical location of the terminal that had hacked into the warehouse, she'd managed to grab a partial user ID. The warehouse records had all been doctored to show that it was H.G.'s login that had been used to break in, but the complicated set of alphanumerics displayed on her screen was something in a league far beyond H.G.'s computer skills.

Now, if she could just match the partial ID with a name in the warehouse records, she might just have something she could take to Mrs. Fredric and Artie.

Texting the address to Myka, she wasn't surprised when her phone rang a moment later.

"Hey, yeah, that's where the computer is. I've no idea what's there, so be careful. What?" Claudia grinned as Myka made a request. "Oh, you mean you didn't have one of those in high school? I did, still do, too. It's great for getting in to see some pretty kick-ass bands. I know, I know - I shouldn't be doing that. Hey, it's not like I'm going on benders and drinking myself stupid or anything! Yeah, yeah, fine, yeah, I know a guy." Quickly, she related where to find a good ID counterfeiter in Chicago and how to get past his security. "Bring a bag of krispy M&M's with you. Give it to the guy at the counter and tell him that you're looking for Dave. When he asks you why, tell him that Claudia sends her love."

She grinned at something Myka said and then chuckled. "Yep, that's it. No secret handshakes, no special pass phrases. You will, of course, need to have a couple hundred for the good stuff, but you got that covered, right?... Cool." She paused, listening as Myka spoke. "Yeah, Artie's pretty cheesed off. I think Pete might be starting to wonder, though... I know. I wish we could tell him too. Do you know what else you're going to do besides looking into that address I sent you?... Oh, that's a good idea. Yeah, I'll let Mrs. F know... Okay, good luck... Later."

As soon as she hung up the phone, Claudia danced over to her stereo, kicked up the volume to ear-shattering levels, and started singing along with the music. A few songs later, she turned down the sound, composed herself and then settled in front of her laptop. After sending Dave an email warning him that she was diverting some business his way, and not so subtly implying that said business was to be treated right 'or else', she then put in a call to Mrs. Fredric.

"Miss Donovan?" For the first time since Claudia had met the elegant black woman, Mrs. Fredric looked highly frazzled. "Be quick, please."

"Oh, well, I just wanted to let you know that Myka and H.G. are in Chicago and that they're planning to visit the restaurant where H.G. remembers getting instructions. I guess they're hoping it'll trigger something else in her memory. Um, are you okay? You look like you've been ten rounds with Mike Tyson."

Mrs. Fredric smiled grimly. "My appearance is merely evidence of a long day spent attempting to discover the answers we seek. And to answer your next question - no, my searches did not bear fruit. Whoever we are dealing with is very good at hiding their tracks."

"Ooo, if I get my hands on them, I swear I'm gonna kick their asses so hard they taste shoelaces!" Rubbing her temples, Claudia groaned and then said, "I've been chasing shadows all over the network. Fragments of code that look harmless enough, but once I knit them together, I can see that the eventual result is some kind of black ICE program. It's a good one - and frighteningly familiar in design."

Mrs. Fredric looked very interested in that. "How so?"

Claudia shrugged. "I don't know. I mean, I guess if I had to speculate, I'd say it looked almost like the program I designed to break into the warehouse the first time, except it's different in ways I'd never have thought to try. For one thing, the code's far too intricate for just a simple B and E program. This thing has so many little extras that I'll be spending the next six months unscrambling it before I can really parse it all down to brass tacks."

"When you say that it is similar to what you designed, do you mean that it is the same kind of program?"

"No," said Claudia emphatically. "No, this is more - there's actual code strings in this that are virtually identical to what I wrote..." she trailed off and then covered her mouth. "Oh my God."

"What is it, Claudia?" Mrs. Fredric leaned closer to the screen as if trying to reach out to the hacker.

"I think I know what it is," replied Claudia numbly.

"Go on."

"It's MacPherson - or his code, anyway. It's the exact same code he gave me to help break into the warehouse."

"You're certain of this?" Mrs. Fredric looked as though a ghost had just danced across her grave.

"Yeah, I'm as certain as I can be without having all the code to compare," said Claudia.

Nodding, Mrs. Fredric said, "Well, that certainly gives me another avenue to explore. Good work, Claudia. Keep searching - answers are bound to be revealed soon."

Claudia sighed and said, "Right. Will do." The Farnsworth went black.

Setting the device aside, Claudia picked up her cell and called Leena. "Hey, Pete had a great idea..." In as few words as possible, she outlined the plan to search H.G.'s's room for evidence. The innkeeper agreed with the idea and even mentioned that this was the perefect opportunity to search H.G.'s room, since no one had yet come to place everything into storage. Grinning, Claudia knew that nothing would be found to implicate Helena, and that was something that Artie was going to have a hard time ignoring when it came time to reveal H.G.'s and Myka's innocence. "Great! Hopefully you'll find something so I can give Pete and Artie better leads." She hung up and then turned back to her laptop.

"Okay, if I were a string of malicious code, where would I hide?" Hunching over her keyboard, she began rapidly typing.

She'd already found as much as she could within the financial database. Now, she was starting the process of digging through the warehouse inventory. Someone had already taken the Pearl of Wisdom. Who knew what else might be missing?


Chapter 18

Feeling as though thousands of eyes were watching her, Myka self-consciously wormed her way through the crowds of people filling the bus depot. Helena had already gone in ahead of her and was making her way toward a bank of lockers set against the very back wall of the depot. The petite woman was difficult to spot, especially since she'd removed the sling so as not to draw undue attention to herself, but Myka finally caught sight of her as Helena suddenly veered to the left and entered the door to the women's bathroom.

Confused by the very abrupt change of direction, Myka debated following, and when Helena didn't emerge within a few minutes, concern drove her to investigate.

What she discovered was an empty bathroom except for the larger Handicapped stall where Helena was attempting to balance on the seat of the toilet while reaching up with her good arm to dislodge an acoustic tile overhead.

"What are you doing?" Myka hissed as she hurried forward to steady Helena's wobbling legs. "Are you trying to kill yourself?"

"Certainly not! I am attempting to recover the key to the locker while also preventing myself from falling into the commode."

"Why didn't you just say something to me in the first place? Get down from there!" Myka whispered impatiently.

Glancing down, Helena was suddenly very taken by the sight of Myka looking up at her from between her thighs. Grinning wickedly, Helena said, "Oh darling, I doubt I could move right now if my life depended on it."

Perplexed and worried now, Myka clutched Helena's legs tightly. "Are you going to fall? Do I need to get help?"

Helena shook her head and laughed softly. Reaching down with her injured arm, she traced her fingers over Myka's mouth. "No, I do not think we are in need of an audience and, honestly, I prefer privacy in these types of situations."

The distracting touch derailed Myka's thoughts. Slowly, she opened her mouth, only a little surprised when Helena's fingers slid inside. Sucking softly, she wasn't sure which of them moaned first.

Helena felt her knees weakening. The combination of the velvet softness of Myka's tongue as it curled and stroked over the tips of her fingers and her precarious positioning on the toilet made it even more difficult to maintain her balance. It was time to try a different tactic to retrieve the key. First, however, she intended to have a little fun.

Extracting her fingers from Myka's mouth, Helena whispered, "Help me down, love."

Dazedly, Myka steadied the other woman as best she could, making certain that Helena' didn't lose her balance and fall.

Her feet now firmly on the ground, Helena pushed the door shut, locked it, and then turned to face Myka. With a predatory smile shaping her lips, Helena moved in swiftly, using her body to force her slightly off-balanced lover backwards until they were pressed against the wall of the stall.

"Wh-what are you doing?" Myka said breathlessly as Helena began to unbutton just the last three buttons on Myka's blouse.

Leaning close, Helena licked her lips and then nipped Myka's bottom lip sharply. "I," she murmured as she untucked the opened blouse and then slid her hand inside the waistband of Myka's pants. "Am having my wicked, wicked way with you." She began to lightly stroke Myka, eliciting a long, slow moan from her lover. "Any questions?"

"N-no," Myka gasped as her head rolled back. She shouldn't be doing this, not here, not like some lovesick teenager, but damn if it didn't feel like the most incredibly awesome, crazy, and sinful thing she'd ever done. Throwing all caution out the window, Myka lifted her leg and wrapped it around Helena's waist. "Don't stop," she whispered as she ground into her lover's touch. "Whatever you do, don't stop."

"Oh my beautiful darling, that's the last thing I intend," Helena replied softly before seizing Myka's lips in a fierce, demanding kiss.

Myka wasn't sure if it was Helena's insistent, maddening touch, or if it was the shockingly public locale that made the encounter so disarming, but very shortly, she was the one who needed propping up as she fought to regain her equilibrium.

Of course, immediately on the heels of that incredibly wonderful sensation came a devastating and discomforting bout with embarrassment. Red from the top of her head to, she was certain, the bottoms of her feet, Myka covered her face and mumbled, "Oh, my God, what the heck is wrong with me?"

Leaning against the wall next to Myka, Helena shrugged nonchalantly while examining her fingertips. They were wet. Smiling lazily, she placed her fingers in her mouth and hummed in approval. Slowly drawing them out, she murmured, "From what I can tell - not a single thing. In fact, I'd say you were perfect."

Myka uncovered her face long enough to catch sight of what Helena was doing. Moaning softly, she felt her flush deepen as the import of the action drove a spike of hot desire deep into her gut. "You are making me crazy," she murmured.

"I know," Helena retorted smugly. "You can pay me back later. Now, would you be so kind as to retrieve the key? I'm afraid it's a bit harder than I thought it would be."

"You expect me to climb right now?" Myka growled, even as she took a deep breath and started examining how best to go about the action. "I'm not even sure I can walk!" she added quietly. Shaking her head, she stepped over to the toilet, and then, using the walls of the stall for balance, climbed up, lifted the tile and fished around until she felt the hard plastic knob of the key. Quickly, she grabbed it, let the tile fall back into place and jumped down from the commode.

Holding out the key to Helena, Myka smiled and, with saccharine sweetness said, "Here you are, my lady."

Helena accepted it with a nod of her head. "I knew I could count on you to rise to the occasion," she replied haughtily. "Now, let's go get my money."

With key in hand, they quickly made their way to the lockers where it took them only a few minutes to locate the right one. Helena inserted the key and twisted, while behind her, Myka actually crossed her fingers and prayed that they weren't about to get a nasty surprise.

The lock popped and Helena pulled open the door, revealing a dark canvas duffel bag. She started to reach for it, but Myka beat her to it. "Let me get that for you."

With a nod of acknowledgment, Helena stepped back, allowing Myka to slide in and pull out the surprisingly heavy bag. The action did bring a bit of a smirk to Helena's face when she glanced down and noticed that Myka's blouse was still unbuttoned. "You know, you really shouldn't tease me like that. I might be tempted to do something about it."

Frowning, Myka said, "Helena, what are you talking about?" Then she noticed the focus of Helena's gaze. Slowly, she looked down, and then flushed when she saw how much of her bare stomach was revealed. "Oh God, I am so never going to live this down." Swiftly turning toward the wall, she fixed the buttons and then spun back, grabbed the bag and growled, "Come on, let's get out of here."

Once outside of the depot, they hailed a taxi. Even though it went against every instinct Myka had, she knew that the best way to throw Pete and Artie off their scent would be to make them think that she and Helena had gotten on a bus. Abandoning the van in the depot's long term lot would buy them just that much more time until the inevitable confrontation Myka knew was coming - Pete was too good an investigator for them to be able to evade him for too much longer. She only hoped that by then, they would have something besides just the Pearl of Wisdom she now carried wrapped in a scrap of fabric and tucked into her coat pocket to prove Helena's innocence.

The laconic cab driver silently drove them to their destination, and soon, they were standing in front of a dilapidated storefront. Weathered, sun-faded signs proclaimed that the business sold new and used electronics. Taking a deep breath, Myka shouldered Helena's heavy duffel bag, withdrew a package of krispy M&M's from her jacket pocket, pulled open the door and then waited for the equally bag-laden Helena to precede her before going inside.

It was like stepping back in time. Metal shelves filled with a variety of gadgets led to a Formica display that featured a few brand new items. Behind the counter, an older, balding man with a long ponytail and a tie-dyed t-shirt sat on a stool, watching a Bears game and eating uncooked ramen noodles.

There was a beaded curtain suspended across the doorway leading to another room from which they could see the bluish glow of computer monitors emanating.

Striding to the counter, Myka dropped the bag of candy and said, "Hey there, I'm looking for Dave? Claudia told me to say that she sends her love."

The guy leaped off the stool, scooped up the bag and shoved it into the front pocket of his baggy sweatshirt. Grinning widely, he replied, "How is the little whippersnapper anyway?"

Myka chuckled. "About as you'd expect. Precociously adorable, I'm sure."

He grinned. "Awesome. You must be Myka. Claudia told me you were coming. Follow me." Reaching under the counter, he pressed a button, causing the front door to lock and the open sign to flip over, displaying the "closed" side.

Instantly on her guard, Myka stepped in front of Helena and rested her hand on the butt of her gun. "Dave? May I call you Dave? I'd really appreciate it if you didn't lock us in here right now." She smiled, but there was more than just a hint of steel in her tone.

The man looked up, noticed Myka's stance and quickly stepped back, holding up both his hands in supplication. "Look, lady, I don't want no trouble. Claudia says you're cool and all, so I'm willing to do business, but I can't be letting just anyone walk into my store when I'm not here to mind the till."

Only marginally relaxing, she said, "All right, but no sudden moves. I'd hate to have to shoot a friend of Claudia's."

Dave gulped and smiled weakly. "You got it lady." Quickly, he scurried over to the back room door. "You just need a couple of simple ID's, right?"

"Yeah, that'll be good," said Myka as she and Helena slowly made their way behind the counter and over to the door.

Once there, Myka made Helena stand out of the line of fire, which suited the other woman just fine. Completely fascinated with the various shelves, boxes, and piles of broken and whole electronics, Helena was content to spend her time gazing into every nook and cranny that filled the shop.

Dave took a seat in front of a row of computers, and began to rapidly enter information on a pair of blank virtual Ohio driver's licenses. "Okay," he said, cracking his knuckles and glancing up at Myka. "What do you want your names to be?"

This was something over which they'd debated hotly during the drive from Wells. Helena had been adamant in her refusal to call Myka something as prosaic as, "Mabel," and had insisted that the pair choose names they actually liked.

"Helen Wesley and Miranda Burton."

Nodding, Dave added the information and then said, "Dates of birth?" Though he had no idea why the so-far-silent, but very beautiful companion to the very touchy Myka snorted in laughter, nor why Myka would shoot her such a glare; he just waited, knowing that soon, they'd be gone, he'd be richer, and in possession of a very large bag of his favorite candy.

"For Miranda, twelve-twenty-two-eighty-one and for Helen, nine-twenty-one-seventy-four." Myka actually had to close her eyes briefly to get the dates right and when she was done, she leaned over and whispered, "You realize that you're the world's most epic cradle robber, right?"

"Are you complaining? After all, it's my years of wisdom and experience that you crave, isn't it?"

Since Myka's gaze was firmly fixed on a flash of pale flesh revealed by Helena's low-cut neckline, she absently responded, "Oh, of course."

Helena smirked knowingly. "Might I suggest we locate a hotel after this? I'm feeling a bit weary."

Instantly brought back to reality, Myka resumed her pose as protector and said, "Oh, right. Of course. God, I keep forgetting. You've got to be in so much pain right now. Yes, of course we'll find a hotel."

Helena's smirk only widened to a Cheshire grin as she let Myka continue babbling. Oh my sweet, beautiful love - sleep is not what I seek. I will have you spread before me like the Feast of Dionysus. I will sup from the wine of your flesh and you shall have equal measure of mine, and in the morning, we shall work to vanquish those who stand against our happiness. Gone was the guilt, burned away by a fierce need to be worthy of the love Myka so freely offered. She reached up and brushed her fingertips over the locket she always kept close to her heart. Can you feel mummy's happiness, Christina? I pray you do, my darling girl, for I know that you would adore Myka.

Caught between wanting to get this order done quickly and wanting to discover if the tension building between the two beautiful women was about to erupt into something he normally had to steal off the Playboy channel, Dave put the finishing touches on the IDs and then turned and said, "All right ladies, it's time to smile for the camera."

In turns, they each stepped over to a spot marked on the floor while Dave snapped quick digital photos and then transferred them into Photoshop. It was only a matter of minutes before he presented them with digitally cleaned up versions of themselves. Helena touched her throat, where a dark band of bruising was still very visible against the alabaster creaminess of her flesh. On the screen, the mark was gone, as was the angry, red line of stitches on her brow.

Softly, she muttered, "Score one for the post horse-and-buggy era."

Dave grinned. "Yeah, gotta love this program. Best thing invented for folks like me since the PC went mainstream." He patted the screen gently and then added, "I can't wait to get my hands on the new version - it's got so many bells and whistles, that it might just put me out of business!"

"Fascinating," said Helena as she watched Dave turn on several machines and load them with ID blanks. It took a little time, but sooner rather than later, they were able to exchange several hundred dollars for two brand new, perfectly legit looking, Ohio driver's licenses.

They pocketed the IDs and headed back out into the shop. Myka had to stop and resettle the duffel on her shoulder, giving Helena time to pick up and discard several of the gadgets displayed on a shelf before she declared, "I believe, that when next I have the opportunity, I shall have to invest more time in exploring the technical manuals Claudia keeps piled next to her bed. I find that I am quite intrigued by the possibilities of these devices."

Myka shook her head. "You know, normally I wouldn't think anything of that statement, but coming from you, Helena, I'm a bit worried." They waited while Dave unlocked the door and then exited the store.

"Why so?"

"Well, let's see, shall I count the ways, or just take you into the nearest used book store?"

"Oh, books, I love books!"

"Helena! I'm being serious, here. You invented a freaking time machine, for God's sake!" Myka whispered with some asperity. "What are you going come up with next? A teleportation device?"

Helena actually paused and rested her chin in her hand as if actually considering the idea. "Well, I suppose that if I could -" Before she could finish, Myka grabbed her arm and dragged her over to where a taxi was just pulling up to the curb.

"Don't even bother finishing that thought," Myka said warningly as she leaned in and told the driver, "Hi, yeah, can you take us to the Four Seasons?"

"Sure thing, lady. Get in." The taxi stank of a horrid combination of patchouli, perfume, and sweat.

Taking their last breaths of clean air for a while, the women climbed inside and prayed that traffic wasn't too bad.

Pulling out her cellp hone, Myka dialed Claudia's number and when it was answered, she said, "Hey, I need another favor. Yeah, it just dawned on me that we need a credit card to get a room. Do you think you could call ahead and provide the hotel with the information?... Yeah, it's the Four Seasons... Oh, you can? Sure, go ahead and reserve us a room. It doesn't have to be too special. Just someplace we can crash. Helen's exhausted." She forced herself to use the fake name just to get used to it.

"Yes, I know we owe you. Trust me, it's covered." Myka sighed, feeling some of the weight of the last few days press against her. Even though they hadn't seemingly done much, it still felt like she was running the longest marathon of her life. "That's right - Helen Wesley and Miranda Burton." She waited while Claudia typed like a madwoman and then asked something which caused Myka to chuckle. "No, separate rooms aren't necessary." Shyly, she added, "I followed your advice."

There was an excited squeal at the other end of the line, followed by so many babbled questions that Myka winced and pulled the phone away from her ear.

"Claudia? Claudia, calm down. No, I will not share details, yes, it was exactly what I needed, and no, you may not talk to Helen right now."

On the other side of the car, Helena watched with amusement as Myka verbally jousted with Claudia. Finally, she shook her head and said, "Oh, darling, don't be such an arse. Let me talk to your sister."

As much as Myka wanted to keep the bubble around them closed, she knew eventually that others would have to interact with them as a couple. At least if it was Claudia, who actually liked Helena, who was the first of their friends to react to the change, it might make the later confrontation with Artie and Pete easier to handle.

As soon as Helena took the phone and said, "Hello," Claudia immediately lit in with the, 'I-care-a-whole-lot-about-Myka-and-if-you-hurt-her-I-will-ruin-your-life,' speech. All Helena could do was smile fondly and let the younger woman's spiel run its course.

"Yes, Claudia, I certainly understand. I shall endeavor to be everything you expect. Miranda-" She put a slight twist on the word that made Myka actually wish it were her real name. "Miranda is everything to me. Actually, I wanted to say thank you. Without you, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to tell her how I felt."

Helena smiled wistfully, and then chuckled at something Claudia said. "No, that doesn't mean I will share any details with you, either. Now, we really must be going. Still much business to attend to."

Handing the phone back to Myka, both women were able to overhear Claudia's grumbled, "Aww, you guys aren't any fun, are you?"

"Nope, I guess not," said Myka nonchalantly. "Anyway, are we covered?" She pulled her notebook and pen from her jacket pocket, scrawled some information down and then said, "Thanks, Claudia. We owe you one and don't worry, we'll pay you back. We'll even bring you a t-shirt or some fudge or something."

Shortly after the phone call ended, they arrived at the hotel. Before paying the driver, Myka tucked her holstered weapon just inside the top of the duffel bag and zipped it shut. Then, they both gratefully escaped the miasma of the taxi and raced inside the building, narrowly avoiding getting soaked by a sudden thundershower.

At the desk, Myka presented her fake ID and said, "Yeah, hi, I think my secretary, Claudia Donovan, reserved a room for us? It should be for Miranda Burton and Helen Wesley."

The clerk typed in the name, glanced at Myka's ID and said, "Yes, ma'am, she reserved Author Suite for you. Check out time is noon. And how many days will you be staying with us?"

"I'm not sure. Best make it an open-ended date."

He smiled. "Shall I credit the charges to the card on file?"

Inwardly wincing at the large hit Claudia's card was about to take, Myka nodded and said, "That's fine." This bag better have more than a couple of hundred bucks in it. The Author Suite is one of the pricier rooms in this place. Good God, Claudia, what were you thinking?

As he finished processing them in, he looked up and asked, "Will you need assistance with your luggage?"

Myka shook her head. "No, I think I can handle it. Just a couple of key cards will do. We're both exhausted and just want to order some room service and crash for a while."

The clerk nodded knowingly. "All right then. Here you go. Just sign here and we'll get you on your way." He indicated a place on the register where Myka was to sign.

Once that was done, he handed her two key cards and indicated the bank of elevators across the lobby. "It's on forty-six. If you'd like, I can have someone escort you."

Myka handed one of the cards to Helena, who glanced at it and then shoved it into a pocket. "No thanks. We're good," she said with a smile.

Inside the elevator, they were joined by an older, well-dressed gentleman, a pair of obviously vacationing tourists, two heavily made up women, and a bored-looking teenager clutching the end of a leash that was attached to the smallest dog Myka had ever seen.

Each time the elevator stopped, they were joined or left with an equally odd mixture of humanity, provoking Helena to lean over and whisper, "This is utterly fascinating. I could do this for days and not see the same people twice. "

"Oh hush, you," retorted Myka, but she smiled anyway.

The room was astounding. They both stood, staring around them in awe at the tasteful furnishings, the wide, open spaces, and beautiful views of the city and the lake.

"Good God, this is bigger than my first apartment," said Myka as she let the duffel bag fall to the couch.

Helena snorted. "I think this is bigger than the flat the warehouse gave me in London."

"Why would you need a flat in London anyway? You own a home there."

Letting her own bag land beside the duffel, Helena said, "It wasn't always convenient to bring my work home when my brother was around. Having the flat meant I could keep my work private."

Myka edged up behind her lover and slipped her arms around Helena's middle. Lowering her head, she took an experimental nibble of Helena's ear and whispered, "Was it only work you brought home? Agent Arnold certainly seemed to know quite a bit about your flat, and you did mention that only some of your lovers had been men. Do you have any idea what I felt when I heard that?" She didn't bother mentioning the surge of jealousy she'd experienced when she'd realized that Elizabeth Arnold had been Helena's lover.

Leaning back into Myka, Helena smiled and let her head fall to the side so that Myka could have better access. "Mm, well, I certainly hoped that you concluded that I wasn't closed off to the idea of pursuing a romantic relationship with someone of the fairer sex. Obviously, I was successful."

Chuckling ruefully, Myka said, "You're terrible."

"No, I'm honest. As for Elizabeth – to answer your unspoken question, yes, we were lovers." Glancing up, she stared searchingly into Myka's face and said, "I do hope that doesn't bother you."

Myka smiled tenderly and gently kissed Helena's cheek. "Why should it bother me? That was then; this is now."

"Good. Now, where were we?"

"We were about to order room service, I believe," said Myka as she started to pull away.

Before she could completely escape, Helena grabbed Myka's hands, pressing them against her body. "Where do you think you're going? I believe you owe me something."

Myka groaned softly and whispered, "I thought you were tired."

As much as she wanted to fulfill Helena's unspoken demand, Myka knew there were other, more pressing things to do. In a slightly distracted tone, she said, "If you're so full of energy, maybe we should go rent a car and check out that address Claudia gave us." She didn't exactly fight the desire to give in when Helena leaned back and exposed her throat again. Between small kisses and nips, she mumbled, "Plus, there's that restaurant you wanted to check out. There's just so much to do and -" Her breath hitched as Helena released her hand, reached back and grabbed her thigh.

"Myka, shut up and make love to me."

Myka closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and enveloped Helena in a gentle embrace. "Oh God, Helena, I want to. You know I do, but if we start, we won't stop and, you know, I'm actually starving, too. I love you. I want you. God, how I want you, but right now, I want to do everything I can to prove your innocence so I can spend the rest of my life showing you how much I love you."

"Damn you," Helena whispered. Sighing, she pulled away from Myka and turned to face her. "You're right, of course. That doesn't stop me from wanting to just forget the world, but you are right."

Myka smiled and said, "I think this is the first time in my life that I regret being right. Come on, let's get going before I forget my own convictions."

"What should we do with the money? I'm not sure I feel comfortable leaving it out for anyone to discover."

"If this place is like any other high class establishment, there's an in-room safe," said Myka as she began searching the suite. When she found what she was seeking in the bedroom closet, she revealed the safe to Helena. "See? I just have to put in a PIN, reset it, and come up with a new combination."

While Myka busied with the safe, Helena quickly opened the bag and sorted the contents out on the bed. Besides the neat bundles of cash, there were stacks of bearer bonds, several small velvet bags, and a thick folder of papers. Curious, Helena opened the folder and discovered documents pertaining to an account made out in the name of Gabrielle Tilson.

With a delighted laugh, she held up the folder and said, "Apparently, I did remember correctly."

"Oh?" Distracted from her task, Myka stepped over to glance at the document Helena was displaying. As she read it over, both eyebrows slowly crept upward until she laughed and said, "Are you expecting that she'll go to Harvard then?" The amount that would be available to the girl was only slightly less than astronomical.

"I had rather thought she might like Oxford, actually," said Helena primly. "Now, do go see about the safe, won't you my love?" She turned, gathered two of the cash bundles and began counting the hundreds.

Eyes widening at the sight, Myka stuck her tongue out at Helena and then turned back to her search. Well, at least now I know she can afford to pay Claudia back.

On a credenza by the door was a leather folder. Myka retrieved it, hunted through the documents until she found the one she needed, returned to the safe, and opened it.

Together, she and Helena transferred their valuables to the safe, holding back enough cash to pay for the car rental, dinner, and have a bit left over for incidental purchases. To hide her gun, Myka pulled out a slightly rumpled hoodie and pulled it on, tugging it down to cover the holster.

Once everything was squared away, they headed downstairs. It was still raining, which made them grateful for the doorman's presence. He held an umbrella for them while hailing a taxi. Helping them inside, he tipped his cap and wished them a good night after Myka pressed a ten dollar bill in his hand.

As they settled into the cab, Myka's phone vibrated, indicating that she'd gotten a text. Checking it, Myka found that it was a message from Claudia: AVIS ON CLARK HAS YOUR RESERVATION HAVE FUN AND DON'T RUIN THE INTERIOR

"I'm either gonna kiss her, or kill her," Myka mumbled as she gave the driver instructions to take them to the rental agency.

"I suggest you kill her, because if you kiss anyone besides me, we're going to have a problem, darling." Helena flashed her a dimpled, but very serious, grin.

Myka rolled her eyes and said, "Helena, I swear, if you say something like, 'my lips are only meant for yours', I'm going to have to hurt you."

"Mm, you play rough. I like that. What's your preference? Whips? Chains? I'm kind of partial to handcuffs, myself." Helena settled back, crossed her legs, and waited to see if Myka was up to the game.

For a brief moment, Myka was outraged, but when she saw the twinkle in Helena's eye, she smiled mysteriously and said, "You'll just have to wait and find out, won't you?"

Feeling warm all over, Helena inclined her head, indicating that Myka had won the 'point'. Even if I have the rest of forever to spend with her, it still won't be enough time to enjoy everything there is to discover about Myka Bering.


Chapter 19

"Yep, this is the right one," Pete said as he confirmed the plate numbers they had for the vehicle H.G. and Myka had purchased in Cottonwood with those of the van parked in the bus depot's long term lot. "Tell Claudia she did it again."

While Artie continued his conversation with Claudia, Pete peered inside the van. Through the heavily tinted windows, he could discern several empty and half-full plastic grocery bags, a cooler, and toward the back, a sleeping bag and air mattress.

Moving around to the front passenger side, he absently played with the handle, yelping in surprise when the door popped open. "Well I'll be damned," he muttered, grinning at the stroke of luck. "Hey, Artie, check it out - they didn't even lock the doors!"

Artie glanced up from the Farnsworth, squinting as he tried to see anything beyond the glare of the setting sun. In the distance, he could see fast approaching rainclouds and knew that by the end of the night, he'd be cold and wet. Pete's revelation didn't do anything to improve his mood. "That's great, Pete. Just great. That means they're gone and not coming back." He grumbled some more and then shouted, "See if you can find something that tells us where they're going!"

Pete sighed and shook his head. Some days, he wondered if Artie really thought only imbeciles and idiots got important jobs like Secret Service agent.

Climbing into the van, he began searching through its contents. There was little to discover - the cooler contained the remnants of a camp cookout style dinner, the bags were filled with mostly trash and a few half-eaten packages of food, including a mostly full box of cereal bars, and the front seat only contained two empty soda fountain cups from a fast food restaurant.

Moving toward the back, he began to wonder just what had happened when he found a blood spattered, lacy white bra discarded on the floor. Glancing around to be sure he wasn't overseen, Pete quickly sniffed the bra. The musky, coppery overtone of blood didn't quite overwhelm the spicier scent of H.G.'s preferred perfume.

Setting aside the garment, he continued his search. The makeshift bed had obviously been slept in, and if the rumpled state of the sleeping bag was any indication, one, or both of the women had been plagued by some terrific nightmares.

"Looks like they didn't get much sleep," he said as Artie joined him.

"Good. If they're tired, they'll make mistakes." He took in the scene and grumbled. "It really tears me up to think that Myka's sleeping with the enemy."

By this point, Pete had unzipped the sleeping bag and what he spotted lying crumpled at the very bottom of the bag made him swallow heavily.

"Um, Artie?" he said as he used a pen to drag a pair of women's cotton panties into view. "Do you think it's possible that..." Trailing off as his hormone fueled brain came up with a picture that seemed wholly unreal, Pete could only stare at Artie.

As Artie began to grasp the implications of Pete's inarticulate commentary, he turned scarlet, and then white. "So now we know why Myka turned on us."

"What? No, come on!" Pete scoffed. "Not Myka! She's not - I mean, she was totally into her high school crush, and that guy was definitely a guy's guy, if you know what I mean." But in the back of his mind, Pete was recalling a conversation he'd recently had, where H.G. had piped in with "I know a thing or two about the opposite sex. Many of my lovers were men." This thought led Pete to wonder if maybe Myka's constant defense of H.G. had been born out of childhood hero worship that had turned into a full-on infatuation when confronted with the incredibly hot reality of the living flesh-and-blood woman behind the dusty old words of, what everyone believed, was a man long dead.

The restaurant, Myka and Helena discovered, was only open for breakfast and lunch. Sheepishly, Helena grinned and said, "I guess I didn't notice that part when I was here last. Shall we try again in the morning?"

Myka nodded. "Sure. The menu looks pretty good, actually."

They were standing in front of the entrance to a small, elegant cafe. Just inside the door, they could make out a freestanding chalkboard advertising a variety of interesting dishes.

"Shall we investigate the address Claudia found, then? 'Soonest begun is soonest done' and all that?" Helena leaned in close and added in a soft, teasing whisper, "Though if you'd rather put it off 'til the morning, I won't be disappointed."

Myka turned and leaned against the window of the cafe. Crossing her arms and resting one foot against the wall, she arched one eyebrow expressively and said, "Are you always like this, or is it just me that makes you act like a randy teenager?"

The gently chiding tone to Myka's voice stung Helena deeper than she wanted to admit. Exhaustion and the sudden, sharp pounding in her head merged with the still present sense that she was unworthy of love, forced Helena to icily retort, "I apologize if my petulant desires have caused you any discomfort. I can assure you that it will not happen again."

Spinning on her heel, she limped back to the car and refused to turn around when Myka called her name.

"Pete, really, this is nothing. We need to work on locating Myka and H.G., not be wasting time poking around some dirty old dockside warehouse looking for invisible hackers!" hissed Artie as he and Pete edged around the corner of a corrugated tin wall.

"Look, I'm sorry, but Mrs. F said to check it out, so we have to do it. I don't get it, either. All I know is that, supposedly, this is where the computer that hacked into the warehouse financial accounts is located, and I guess she wants us to secure it to gather more evidence against H.G."

Artie frowned darkly. "I wish she'd answer the Farnsworth. Then we could straighten this whole thing out and get back to the important task of apprehending two very dangerous women." When he'd tried to contact Mrs. Fredric to confirm the order, he'd had no luck. It wasn't that he was worried - this wasn't the first time he'd been in a situation where he couldn't contact her right away, but still, it irritated him to have his plans interrupted.

"Well, humor me, Artie. Let's keep looking. You never know what we'll find." Pete glanced around, noting the placement of guards on the roof of the building they were attempting to case. Who puts so many guards on a simple warehouse? What are they storing in there?

"Helena, I'm sorry, okay?" Glancing over at the sullen woman beside her, Myka raised her hand and touched Helena's cheek, causing Helena to flinch slightly. "Hey, what's going on, hmm?" Slowly, she ran her fingers through her lover's hair. This time, Helena didn't flinch, but she didn't exactly act as if she enjoyed the touch, either.

Myka sighed. "Is this because I teased you about wanting me?" Helena still didn't reply. Biting her lip, Myka said, "You know, this thing, this great big emotional bomb we have between us that sort of blew up everything and changed how we act - well, it's not like anything I've ever felt before, and sometimes, well, sometimes I kind of feel like it's not real. Like I'm dreaming, and I'm going to wake up one morning and you'll be gone." She smiled sadly. "I mean, I'm not the girl that gets the handsome guy - or in this case - the stunningly beautiful woman - I'm the girl that goes home alone, curls up with her cheap paperback romance and a bottle of wine and dreams of that kind of love."

Throughout her speech, Myka continued to touch Helena, playing with her hair, touching her cheek, even going so far as to place her hand around the back of Helena's neck and flex her fingers in a gentle, massaging motion. When there was still no response, Myka started to pull her hand away but stopped when Helena let out a soft sound of protest.

"Please don't," she whispered. "Don't you know how much I need you? How much I crave your touch, Myka?" She turned to face Myka, her expression both pleading and terrified. "What we have isn't some delightful roll in the hay to me. It isn't boorish, it isn't crass, and it's certainly not the result of a teenager's hormone fueled wet dream." Slowly, she reached up, took Myka's hand and pulled it down to her lap, where she tangled her fingers with Myka's. "After Christina died, I couldn't bear to feel anything but guilt, anger, and grief. Later, once my anger had burned itself out, all that was left was the guilt and the grief. Even whilst I was in the Bronze sector, all that I had were my memories, which ultimately would lead to more guilt and more grief."

She glanced down, hiding the slow trickle of tears that were wetting her cheeks. "Then came MacPherson and his grandiose plans for spreading artifacts all over the world. 'Come with me, my dear,' he said, 'and I'll hunt the ends of the earth to find anything you want.' I think he would have promised to make me a queen if I'd asked, but all that I wanted was to escape my memories. His petty machinations served to get me the things I wanted from the vault, but after that, he was only a mad dog that needed to be put down else he spread his disease to others."

Myka had no idea what Helena was rambling about, but figured it was best to let her keep talking. Something told her that no one had ever let Helena just talk; let her work out the pain and grief and self-doubt that had plagued her since Christina's murder. It was time and past for Helena to feel safe; to feel like she had someone to whom her words meant something other than fodder for a report.

Squeezing her hand tightly, Myka said, "I'm listening."

Helena's eyes closed. Is it fate, destiny, or just plain bad luck that I had to live more than a hundred years before finding someone who could possibly understand me? Behind the thought came a quick, sharp jab of pain which she was only partially successful at ignoring.

"After I killed MacPherson, I spent a lot of time wandering around, seeing the sights, taking in how much the world had changed while I was away, and you know, I almost came back to the warehouse and asked to be re-bronzed? But then one day, here in Chicago, I looked out the window of my hotel, and do you know what I saw?" The tears had ebbed, and now, Helena was smiling, a soft, hopeful expression that was hauntingly sweet.

Myka shook her head. "No. What did you see, Helena?"

Helena's smile broadened and she lifted their joined hands and kissed Myka's fingertips. "You, my dear. I saw you. There you were, walking down the street, like you'd been dropped there by destiny. It was a sign - my moment to understand what I was meant to do with the second chance I'd been given. That's when I realized I had to become an agent again. I had to be near you, because if I could feel so much just by looking at you, then I had to find a reason to be close to you."

"So, is this your way of saying I'm forgiven?" Myka said winsomely.

Helena chuckled and wiped her face. "It's my way of saying that there's nothing to forgive. I love you; I'm in love with you. You, Myka, are going home with the beautiful woman and she is all yours to do with as you please, for as long as you please." Taking up Myka's hand again, she pulled it up and kissed the back of it gently. Another jab of pain skated across her head, and this time, it brought with it a tiny curl of fear. Helena knew very little about the Pearl of Wisdom, but what she did know told her that what she was experiencing would only get worse. Choosing to ignore it once again, Helena whispered, "I am real, my love. You can touch me, and hold me, and if I'm very, very lucky, you can make love to me every day for the rest of our lives."

After that, there really wasn't anything Myka could say, so she chose instead to pull the car over, unbuckle her seat belt, and lean across the seats so she could fiercely kiss the woman she loved.

"See? I told you. It was nothing. Just a simple import/export business that didn't take kindly to a couple of secret service agents poking around without a warrant!"

Pete and Artie had been spotted as they'd tried to peek in a window and had been forced to do some rather fast talking in order to avoid having the police called. That had included Pete pulling out his credentials. Once they'd been shown, the security guard had backed down, but had insisted that if they had a legitimate reason to be investigating the warehouse, that they had to return in the morning with a proper warrant.

"Yeah, yeah, whatever - I still say we had to check it out. I mean, what if we'd found something? Then what? Then I'd be looking pretty good right about now." Irritation made Pete obnoxious. Something was definitely up with this warehouse. The little bit he'd been able to see before the guard had shown up told him that whatever was inside the building, it wasn't crates of tacky souvenirs or cheap electronics. In fact, the actual floor of the warehouse had seemed profoundly underused for a busy shipping company. Only one small corner of the warehouse had contained anything resembling shipping containers, and they hadn't occupied much space.

"Yes, well, instead, you get to be the one to look like an idiot while I go and call Claudia and see what she's been able to find on our real case," said Artie as he thrust himself into the passenger seat of the car.

Pete paused at the driver's door and glanced back at the warehouse. Scratching his chin, he tried to find some way to quantify the odd, buzzing sensation that prickled the hairs on the back of his neck, but just couldn't find anything that he could point to and say, "There, look, it's right there in front of you!" Instead, he sighed, and turned to get into the car, never realizing that less than a hundred feet from where he stood, Myka sat crouched in her rental car, watching until he drove away.

Discovering that the address led to a warehouse on the docks hadn't surprise Myka. What had caused a gasp of shock was spotting the shadow-shrouded forms of Pete and Artie as they scurried from building to building. She and Helena had parked across the street from the warehouse, huddled in the car and had been trading a pair of cheap binoculars back and forth when Myka had suddenly noticed one of the moving shadows was oddly squat in shape.

They'd both squished themselves down below the level of the window and Myka had held her breath each time she'd glanced up to see where the two men were. After about ten minutes, she was able to sit back up and let out a long sigh of relief. They were gone.

"Well," said Helena as she straightened the rumpled fabric of her improvised sling, "That certainly got the blood pumping. Now what?"

Myka's stomach rumbled loudly. Grimacing, Myka dryly replied, "Now we get something to eat."

Over dinner at a small, cozy, out of the way Italian restaurant, they discussed what they'd seen at the warehouse.

"Yes, but, why would they need so many armed guards to protect the place?" On a napkin, Myka had sketched what she'd been able to make out of the set up and realized that there had been far more security than a simple storage facility required. "I mean, if I didn't know any better, I'd begin to wonder if they were arms smugglers or something like that." A quick call to Claudia had only produced the information that the warehouse was owned by a company that was a shell corporation for another company whose board of trustees seemed to exist only on paper. In other words, it was going to take the hacker some time to dig through the red tape to find the real people behind the fake businesses.

Tearing off a chunk of oil-soaked bread, Helena bit into it and said, "Perhaps they are smugglers of a type. If, as Claudia claims, this is where the computer that hacked into Warehouse 13's finances is located, then perhaps those behind it are, in fact, aware of what it is that they are dealing with? Surely MacPherson had more than one or two toadies who understood the implications of the kind of power the artifacts he sought possessed."

The idea that there might be more people out there like MacPherson - that wanted to see the artifacts in the hands of anyone who could afford them - made Myka's appetite fade. Pushing her food around on her plate, she sighed and said, "We need some way to get inside that building. Damn it! Why did they have to choose you? If it were anyone else, Artie might believe me when I showed him the Pearl, but for some reason, he's got a real problem when it comes to trusting you."

Helena shrugged. "I can't really blame him. Even without all the havoc I caused in retrieving my personal possessions, I'm still an anomaly to him." She smiled sadly. "I'm H.G. Wells, Myka - a figure from another time; perhaps, in his mind, I'm little more than a walking, talking artifact that needs to be kept away from the unwary world." She winced as a sharper than normal throb of pain pulsed inside her head.

Setting down her fork, Myka shook her head. "That's not fair - you're not an inanimate object! It's not like you can just be locked up in a box and forgotten about for a hundred years!" Then she blanched as she realized that was exactly what had happened. Glancing up, she caught just the tail end of a pained expression fleeting across Helena's face.

Helena reached out and took Myka's hand and tried to smile. "No one ever claimed that life was fair, Myka."

"It's wrong." Even as she spoke, Myka watched her lover's face, seeking an echo of the pain she swore she'd just seen there.

"I'm not disagreeing with you." The headache blossomed, causing her nostrils to flair as she fought off a surge of nausea.

"I won't let him lock you up just because he's afraid of something you might do. You're innocent - heck, you chose to be bronzed in the first place! There's no reason to punish you just because you happen to have a birth date that begins with an eighteen!" Something's wrong. She looks like she's about to pass out!

Noticing that they were beginning to draw interested glances, Helena leaned forward and said, "Darling, while I do appreciate your support, perhaps you could do it a little less vociferously? I'd really rather not get a personal introduction to the inside of a modern gaol tonight." The pain had reached its crescendo, making it difficult for Helena to see more than a few, hazy blobs.

Instantly, Myka quieted, looking around and smiling in embarrassment at anyone whose gaze lingered too long on her. "Sorry," she said as she turned her attention back to Helena. "I just get very defensive of the people I love. Speaking of which – is something wrong with your dinner? You look like you just swallowed something and it moved."

Helena grimaced. "Nothing so strange as that, love. I've just a bit of a headache is all. It's fine – it's already passing." She forced a smile and took a hearty bite of a meal that was no longer appetizing.

If there was anything that he could say with certainty about why he hated having to get his hands dirty, it was that he hated the Badlands. Hot, dry, dusty, and at night, colder than a witch's tit, the boring little back of nowhere hole in the planet where the current warehouse resided made him want to spit nails at those who'd chosen to hide it in such a remote location.

He liked his creature comforts, and one just could not find things like freshly hand-rolled Cuban cigars in Univille. Still, at least this way, he had the satisfaction of knowing that the job would be done exactly to his specifications. Nothing would go wrong this time, he'd be sure of it. Taking a firm grip on the handle of his gun, he hunkered down to wait. It wouldn't be long now.


Chapter 20

"I still don't understand why you had to try on four different vests, Helen. They were all the same color and cut!" Myka and two bellhops were loaded down with packages. They'd had to wait close to an hour for a table at the restaurant and Helena had suggested they bide their time window shopping at a row of expensive boutiques nearby. Myka wondered how many packages they'd have if the wait had been longer.

"Each garment had details which made it desirable. I just sought to discover which was the one that completed the ensemble to perfection," replied Helena airily as she slid the room key into the door and waited for it to unlock. Truthfully, she'd just enjoyed the glazed look of naked lust that came over Myka's face each time she'd tried on a different outfit.

In the end, her choice had come down to which outfit made Myka's pulse race the fastest, and by the amount of perspiration dotting her brow, it had been the cream-and-cocoa linen combination. Of course, she'd purchased the others just to have some secondary choices, but the cream blouse and cocoa colored pants and waistcoat were what she'd chosen to wear out of the boutique.

"But you bought them all anyway. And now I have to carry them!" Myka didn't actually mind hauling around Helena's purchases; she just enjoyed teasing her lover.

As she pushed open the door to their room, Helena tossed her hair back over her shoulder and said, "Oh love, at least half those bags are yours, so please, do shut up."

In a burst of childishness, Myka stuck her tongue out at Helena as she bustled past her to set the garment bags on the nearby settee.

One of the bellhops snorted. "My wife does that to me all the time, ma'am. Just let her have her way - trust me, it'll end up in your favor later," he said with a wicked grin. The other bellhop frowned, but managed to dredge up a smile when Helena forked over a generous tip.

To the first bellhop, she said, "I shall certainly endeavor to see that your prediction comes true."

He doffed his cap at her and winked. Softly, he whispered, "My name's Andy, ma'am, and if there's anything you need, anything at all, just come find me and I'll be happy to help."

She smiled. "I'll remember that." With a slight wave, she closed the door and turned to face Myka, but the other woman was not in the sitting room. Turning the lock, she went in search of her lover.

Helena found her in the master bedroom, standing in front of the panoramic window that overlooked the lake. It was an oddly familiar sensation to approach Myka this way, with her in the dark, lit only by the ambient light of a city, but in this moment, it was utterly different than Cairo. Instead of the burdens of grief and guilt, Helena's heart was full of love.

"Do you think we have much longer before Pete and Artie find us?" said Myka as Helena snuggled up against her. She draped her arm over Helena's uninjured shoulder and let her cheek rest against the top of Helena's head.

Helena sighed. "I don't know. If they're good enough to be warehouse agents, then they're good enough to find us, no matter how many misdirections Claudia throws their way."

"I hate this. I hate having to think of my partner as my enemy. Pete wasn't always the guy I would have chosen to work with, but now, I can't imagine not having him at my back."

"I understand, but Myka, listen, if things do turn out badly - if they do find us before we can prove my innocence, you can't fight them. You can't risk yourself for me. I won't have it. If it's my destiny to be returned to the Bronze sector, you've got to let me go." Helena spoke calmly, but firmly, in a tone that brooked no argument.

Myka gasped softly and turned so that she could look Helena in the eyes. "You can't be serious? You can't honestly expect me to just stand there do nothing while they stick you back in that living hell?"

Reaching up, Helena cupped her hand to Myka's face and said, "Darling, you must. It's not so bad. You don't really notice the passing of time after a while." She smiled sadly. "You could come by sometimes, and tell me about the artifacts you collect; the new person in your life. Your children, your-" Myka's sob stilled her words, then her mouth covered Helena's in a trembling kiss.

"No," whispered Myka. "No, it won't be that way," she added, feverishly. Over and over, she kissed Helena, whispering her love, her faith, her determination to clear her name. "You're innocent. You're mine. I will not let them take you from me. Ever."

Unable to do anything but fall into the maelstrom of Myka's kisses, Helena silently prayed that Myka would not live to regret her choice.

"Are you tired?" Myka asked some time later. They were still standing in the bedroom, relaxed in each other's embrace, trading soft, wine-flavored kisses and content to listen to the far off thrum of traffic.

Helena started to reply, but then gasped in pain. Not now! With every bit of her considerable willpower, she tried to ignore the searing brand of agony that was knifing through her skull, but failed. An inarticulate sound was the only warning she could give when the next wave of pain rolled over her, forcing her to grab her head and drop to her knees.

"Helena!" Myka shouted, catching her lover before she could fully collapse. "What's wrong?"

Through chattering teeth, Helena murmured, "Head. Hurts." Twitching and shaking, she fought to keep her dinner where it belonged even as her stomach churned like it was the drum to an out of control washing machine.

Gnawing on her lip, Myka tried to figure out what to do. On the one hand, Helena's pain might be a result of the accident, which meant that the best thing for her was to relax and get some sleep. But on the other hand, I remember Leena talking about how painful the headaches had been after the Pearl had been removed the first time. Oh, maybe I should call Mrs. Fredric. Even as she debated the question, Helena's breathing grew shallower, slower, and more controlled. Finally, she took one deep breath and pulled away from Myka. Grimly, Helena said, "Well, I see that all the reports about the aftereffects of the Pearl of Wisdom are correct."

"I'm calling Mrs. Fredric. She fixed Leena; she can fix you too," said Myka determinedly.

As she started to stand, Helena reached out and stopped her. "No, love. Not tonight; there's nothing to be done about it now." She smiled tiredly. "I'll be fine. But, if it makes you feel better, I certainly won't say no to a little judicious coddling."

Stubbornly, Myka shook her head. "No. This is serious, Helena."

Capturing Myka's hand, Helena drew it to her lips and pressed a kiss to the knuckles. "I am fine; truly. I believe the worst has passed. All I want now is to be with you, is that so much to ask?"

Myka's heart melted into a tiny puddle of mush at the open, needful expression of love and desire on Helena's face. Under that gaze, Myka was forced to relent, she cupped Helena's face in her hands and kissed her softly. Pressing her forehead to Helena's, she said, "All right. We'll wait. In the meantime, how about we get you into a hot bath?"

"That sounds divine," said Helena as she allowed Myka to help her stand. "Perhaps I should inspect the bar for proper libations?"

"Helena, I don't think you should be drinking."

Grinning mischievously Helena said, "Nonsense. I distinctly recall reading that red wine is good for the constitution."

"I'm just not sure it's safe –" Her protestations were cut off with a kiss.

"No; we agreed. It's just one night, darling. What harm could waiting bring?"

"I don't know, Helena. You really seemed like you were in a lot of pain," Myka said, frowning in consternation.

Helena smiled winsomely. "But I'm quite all right now, love." When Myka's expression didn't waver, Helena pouted and said, "Will it help if I said that I'll take some aspirin?"

It was hard to deny Helena's lovely brown eyes, and Myka felt herself melting. "Oh, well, I don't – I guess I have some ibuprofen you could have, but, if it gets any worse, you'll tell me straight away, right?"

Helena mock saluted and then leaned up to kiss her lover. "Instantly and immediately."

"And we'll take it easy, and just relax, and be gentle, and -" Even as Myka continued to talk into the kiss, Helena's wandering fingers completely derailed her thought process. Somewhere between the bedroom and the bathroom, her clothes vanished and she was left standing next to the slowly filling tub, aching with the need to hold her lover.

When Helena found her way to the bathroom, she was pleased to discover Myka kneeling beside the nearly full tub. Smiling, she displayed two glasses and a bottle of sparkling grape juice. "A compromise, because I love you, and respect your opinion," she said as she offered a glass to Myka.

Myka's smile was more than worth the sacrifice of the expensive looking bottle of wine she'd found chilling in the bar.

Helena poured each of them a measure of juice and, as they shared a silent toast, Helena popped a couple of ibuprofen, and then Myka took Helena's glass and the bottle and set them aside. "Now, let's get you out of these things and into this bath before the water grows cold."

First came the dingy makeshift sling. Myka wrinkled her nose as she tossed it into the other room. "I think we'll have to get something else tomorrow; that thing's disgusting."

"Perhaps I should do away with it altogether. It seems more an inconvenience than an aid," Helena said as she slowly worked out the kink in her elbow.

Next Myka opened Helena's waistcoat and then, with a bit of a mischievous grin, she started unbuttoning the linen blouse from the bottom, paused and slid her hand inside and traced her fingertips along the waistband of Helena's slacks. "I should," she whispered teasingly, "take my revenge now."

Swallowing heavily, Helena tipped her head up and, through half-closed eyes, said, "Anything you want."

Myka dipped her head down, keeping their mouths just a hair's breadth apart. "Anything?" she whispered.

Closing the distance between them, Helena seized Myka's lower lip between her teeth and sucked on it. "Anything," she replied in breathless confirmation.

Myka smiled, kissed her and then said, "Then don't ever ask me to stand by and let you go again. It would kill me."

Shaking her head, Helena chuckled softly and said, "You do not play fair, my love." But she did raise both her hands up to cup Myka's cheeks. Running her thumb over Myka's lips, she said, "I promise - I won't ask you to let me go. We'll stand and face whatever comes together."

"Thank you." Myka sealed her words with a kiss, and then turned off the water while Helena finished unbuttoning her blouse.

Once Helena was fully undressed, Myka helped her step into the tub and then slipped in behind her. Together, they settled into the hot, scented water and relaxed as bubbles swirled around them.

Reaching down, Myka retrieved their glasses and handed one to Helena. "To finding proof of your innocence," she declared softly, and they clinked their glasses together.

After enjoying a few sips, Myka took the glasses back, set them aside and located a small, soft sponge and a bottle of body wash.

"Just lie back and enjoy this, okay?" she whispered as she drizzled the light, summery scented liquid onto the sponge.

"You do realize, don't you sweetheart, that I am going to pamper you silly once my arm is healed?"

Chuckling shamelessly, Myka murmured, "I'm counting on it." Slowly, she drew the sponge over Helena's body, running it gently over everything she could reach.

Helena's eyes closed and she arched back into Myka. Softly, she whimpered whenever Myka would avoid those areas she most wanted touched. After several minutes of the delicate torture, she reached up with her good arm, wrapped her fingers in Myka's hair and pulled her down into a wanton, open-mouthed kiss.

"Myka," she gasped. "Stop playing with me."

Abandoning the sponge, Myka closed her hands over Helena's breasts, pinching and stroking her nipples, causing Helena to hiss and moan in pleasure.

A small amount of water sloshed out of the tub when Myka slid one hand down Helena's abdomen and more splashed out when Helena shifted slightly so that Myka could reach even lower. When it appeared that half the water in the tub was about to be displaced, Helena disengaged herself from Myka and murmured, "Here, let me help you with that." Repositioning herself so that she was straddling Myka's lap, she leaned forward, captured Myka's mouth in several light, teasing kisses and softly growled, "Don't let me stop you now."

Myka chuckled. "Did you want something?" She scratched her nails across Helena's stomach, causing the muscles to ripple and jerk. "Is that..." she drawled, "a hint?"

Softly, Helena whimpered as Myka continued to scatter soft, delicate caresses all over her back, thighs and belly.

Everything was on fire with the need to be touched; but it was delicious, this fire, this beautiful reminder that she was among the living. Suddenly, Helena threw back her head and laughed. "Oh darling, don't stop. You feel so good."

Whatever hesitancy that had kept Myka at bay vanished as she wrapped one arm around Helena and with the other thrust deep inside her lover.

More water splashed onto the floor, but neither woman cared as they wove together, joining and rejoining in the loving dance that was as old as time.

Dressed in one of the remaining robes, Helena was curled up on the bed, nursing the last of the juice while Myka was in the other room, ranting.

"For God's sake, Helena, I don't understand why you can't wait until tomorrow to see this on me. It's not like it's anything super fantastic."

"Call me impatient if you'd like, just be sure to get the one in the yellow bag," replied Helena as she smiled around the rim of her glass.

Out in the sitting room, Myka was hunting through various bags, boxes, and containers when she finally spotted a small, yellow bag. "I don't remember this one," she murmured softly as she lifted the sack and examined the contents. The tell-tale shimmer of expensive black silk was reflected along the insides of the plastic.

At first, Myka felt a bit outraged that Helena would go and do such an utterly underhanded, sneaky thing, but then, she began to realize that this was what lovers did for one another. Still - "But I don't have anything to wear underneath it!" she yelled.

"Yes, darling, I know," came the laughter-filled reply.

As Myka shook out the dress, she finally got it. There really wasn't much more to the garment than some straps, a few squares of cloth, and a skirt that would just barely brush the tops of her thighs. "Oh my God, Helena. I wouldn't wear this in public if my life depended on it."

Still, there was a certain titillating factor to putting on something just for Helena's pleasure. A smirk curved her lips. Though I suspect her pleasure isn't exactly all she had in mind...

A tiny ball of desire began to form in the pit of Myka's stomach. God, she was really going to do this, wasn't she? The answering surge of heat to all points south of her belt line drove her to mutter, "Well then, if I'm doing this, I'm doing this my way."

Helena began to wonder if maybe she hadn't pushed Myka a little too far, too fast. After all, there were certain boundaries that took time for lovers to cross. Just as she was about to tell Myka to forget it and come to bed, Myka appeared in the doorway.

The dress fit like a glove, but that wasn't what Helena noticed first. What struck her was how Myka had transformed. Gone was the woman who was at points goofy, sweet, and practical and in her place was a sexy, sultry siren-of-the-night who commanded Helena's undivided attention. This Myka had never known self-doubt. No, this woman was confidence personified, and she wore like it was a cloak of the finest cloth.

Myka slowly smiled as she watched Helena's eyes become unfocussed with desire. Deliberately, she reached out for the door frame and grasped it, pulling her shoulders back and pointedly thrusting her chest out to fully display the plunging neckline of the dress.

"Do you like it? Does it... suit your tastes?" she asked slowly. Letting one hand fall away from the door, she slid it down her thigh and then back up again, letting her fingers grab hold of the edge of the fabric and pulling upward to reveal the bare skin of her hip. "Does it need alteration?"

Mesmerized, Helena licked her lips and whispered, "No, it's perfect. You're perfect."

"Thank you," Myka said as she shifted just slightly, letting her head rest against the door frame.

After a moment, she started to push away from the door frame and said, "Well, now that you've seen it, I think I'll go change."

"No," Helena said as she slipped from the bed. "No, you're going to stay right where you are."

Raising one eyebrow, Myka said, "I am?"

"Yes." Helena untied the belt to her robe and shrugged her shoulders slowly, allowing the garment to fall to the floor at her feet.

"And wh-what are you going to do?" Myka's control was slipping, and she tried to regain it by leaning back against the door frame and propping one foot up behind her.

That was her undoing, because then Helena knelt at her feet, wrapped her arms over Myka's thighs and pushed up the dress.

Glancing up once to be sure that Myka wasn't about to faint, bolt, or otherwise stop her, Helena smiled and said, "Everything, my peach, everything."

Myka's head slammed back into the wall as Helena's mouth came into contact with her and soon, she had both hands firmly wound in Helena's hair and one leg wrapped firmly around her lover's shoulder. Her last thoughts before sweet oblivion whisked her away had to do with absolutely loving Helena's taste in dresses.

At some point they had ended up on the bed. Myka felt boneless, like every part of her had been turned to gelatin, but in the most beautiful way possible. Beside her, Helena slumbered; after experiencing another painful headache, she'd barely had the strength to tunnel under the covers much less enjoy more than a few moments of cuddling before sleep had swept her off to dreamland. Myka didn't mind. It was sort of nice to have this starlit moment to look down and behold what changes only a short time had wrought.

It seemed like it had been forever since she'd sat staring at the sunset, cursing Helena's name, feeling like she'd just lost everything that meant anything to her. What she had gained in its place was so much more. Turning to curl herself around Helena, Myka pressed a kiss into her shoulder and sighed happily. This was where she belonged, and nothing was going to take that away from her.


Chapter 21

"Now that's interesting," Claudia mumbled to herself as she chewed on the end of a pencil.

She made another notation on the pad of paper next to her and then continued scrolling through the files, coming to a stop when she spotted several files that had been tagged by her "footprint sniffer".

Contemplating the data, Claudia softly muttered, "Hmm, some Italian dude's box, a fancy pistol and what's this I see here?" The artifact was a fairy recent acquisition, and in fact, Claudia could clearly recall the circumstances surrounding its retrieval.

"Now that's just a little bit more than interesting." Laying the pencil aside, she dug deeper into the file, scrolling through the access history until she came across some information that made her run cold all over.

The automatically recorded data of the last person accessing the artifact had been erased. Grabbing both her cell and the Farnsworth, she raced out into the warehouse. Tucked away on a slightly dusty shelf, she found the place where Artie had stored the artifact. Pulling on a pair of purple latex gloves, Claudia carefully opened the box and gasped when it was revealed to be empty.

Flipping open the Farnsworth, she depressed the button for Mrs. Fredric, and was quite surprised when the caretaker's slightly disheveled visage appeared in the screen.

"Whoa, Mrs. F, you look like hell," Claudia exclaimed.

Mrs. Fredric sighed softly. "It may come as a surprise to you, Miss Donovan, but I actually do get tired. Now, you had something to report?"

"Oh, right, um, I found another missing artifact."

Nodding, Mrs. Fredric said, "I'm not surprised. Which one is it?"

Turning so that the caretaker could see the shelf and the empty box, Claudia said, "It's the Phoenix. Also, the identity of last person accessing it was deleted from the system."

Mrs. Fredric actually closed her eyes and let her head fall forward at the news. So softly that the Farnsworth's microphone didn't pick it up, she muttered, "Damn him." A moment later, she took a deep breath and said, "Good work, Claudia. Go home and get some sleep. I will inform Pete and Artie of this development. I think it's time to bring them up to speed on the full situation."

"Okay. If I can help, just give me a call and I'll be there."

"Thank you, Claudia. Good night."

Wearily, Claudia trudged back to the office, gathered her things and started to head over to the access tunnel that led to the outside world. Feeling just a little left out of the events that her information would most likely help to unfold, she shouldered her bag and tried to put on a brave face. "Well, I can always try to rope Leena into an all night Legend of the Seeker marathon."

Cheerfully planning out the order of episodes, amount of junk food for munching, and pouty-face needed to wheedle Leena out of bed, Claudia closed the warehouse door behind her and ambled over to her car. She never registered the sting of the dart as it struck her arm, nor did she notice the man dressed all in black who suddenly appeared to catch her before she hit the ground.

"I'm sorry, but you've become too much of a liability, little girl. Now, I'm afraid, you're a piece of bait."

The soft, golden fingers of dawn stretched across the bedspread, warming Myka's toes and filling the room with morning light. She was lying on her back with Helena's head pillowed on her chest. Having awakened this way, she'd stayed put, too entranced with the experience to let it fade just yet. She didn't want to move, to break the sweet tableau, but soon, she would have to stir, as nature and duty called her to action.

Still, there was one more thing she wanted to share with Helena before they let go of this moment. Slowly sliding from the bed, she paused only to press a kiss to Helena's sleepy brow. "Shh," she murmured softly. "I'll be right back. Just rest."

"Mmkay," Helena drowsily replied, and promptly fell back to sleep.

Quietly, Myka made her way out into the main room of the suite, pulled on some clothes and then headed out to run her errand.

Artie was rarely an early riser, except for when he was injured. Pain usually sent him seeking whatever prescription he required some time before dawn. Today was no different, and by the time the throbbing in his shoulder had subsided, it was far too late to think about getting any more sleep. Instead, he tried calling Claudia, to see if the young agent had come up with any more leads on Bering and Wells.

When he didn't get an answer on either her Farnsworth or her cell, he began to feel a twinge of concern. Indecisively, he hesitated, wondering if maybe she was just sleeping, and if so, should he just let her sleep? After all, she'd been just as dedicated to finding their fugitives as he and Pete, and had probably worked later, too. In the end, though, the desire to get an early start overcame his nascent fatherly instinct, and he dialed the number for Leena.

Her sleepy voice was more than a little disgruntled as she said, "Artie do you know what time it is?"

"Of course I do. Is Claudia there? I can't get her to answer her phone or the Farnsworth."

"Oh, hang on, let me go check." He heard the sounds Leena made as she slid out of bed, padded upstairs and knocked on Claudia's door. "Claudia? Are you in there? Artie's on the phone for you."

"Come on, come on," Artie muttered softly, as anxiety began to make his fingers dance nervously over the surface of the hotel room's table.

Leena said, "I don't hear anything. I'm going inside. Maybe she's just really asleep."

The sound of a door opening came over the line, then more footsteps, and then, Leena sighed. "She's not here, Artie. Maybe she slept at the warehouse?"

"Could you go check? I hate to say it, but I've got a very bad feeling about this."

"Sure, just let me get dressed and I'll call you when I get there."

"No, stay on the line. I'll wait."

Leena made a small noise of disapproval, but didn't disconnect.

Shortly, Artie could hear the sound of her exiting the bed and breakfast, getting into her car, and speeding off to the warehouse. In a matter of minutes, she said, "I can see the El Camino. Oh my God, the door's wide open."

"Leena, be careful! They might still be there!" Artie shouted as he jumped up and started shaking Pete awake. "Pete, come on Pete, wake up, we have to get back to the warehouse!"

"Huh? Artie, what's going on?" Pete said groggily as he came awake, blinking and rubbing at his face.

"Leena? I'm putting you on speaker; tell us what you see." Artie fumbled with the phone until Leena's voice emerged with a crackling hiss.

"… the door's ajar, there's some scuff marks, and oh! Claudia's bag. I just found it half kicked under the car. This doesn't look good, you guys."

Artie grimaced and made a fist. "I knew it. I knew it was just a wild goose chase. They've circled around on us. Bering and Wells have kidnapped Claudia!"

"What?" Pete squawked. "You can't be serious? Artie, come on, Myka would never do anything to hurt Claudia and I'm pretty damn sure even H.G. wouldn't stoop that low."

Concern for Claudia overriding his better judgment, he snidely added, "Your doubts have no place in this investigation anymore! Either you give up your silly notions of the bonds of partnership and step up and act like a proper warehouse agent, or I'll go it alone from here."

"Whoa, wait just a minute, Artie! What the hell are you saying? Are you implying that I'm not doing my job? What exactly is it that you think I was doing when I searched through that van? Or drove you halfway across the country on this crazy chase? Just because I still want to give Myka the benefit of the doubt doesn't mean I'm not willing to change my opinion the moment I have evidence of her guilt. This is still the country where people are innocent until proven guilty, right? We don't just decide to lock someone up and throw away the key just because they aren't acting in a way that we think they should!"

Pete was up now, pacing around the room, pulling on his clothes as Artie shoved things into his bag.

Agitation and worry shoved aside any rational thought as Artie replied, "Yes, Pete, that's exactly what we do at the warehouse. There is no guilt or innocence - there is only us and them. We collect and house the artifacts; they steal, abuse, and cause havoc with them. This cannot be tolerated. I don't know how to tell you any plainer how easy it is for me to see that Bering and Wells are dangerous individuals who should not be allowed to walk free!" Stuffing the last of his belongings into his bag, Artie jammed his hat onto his head and yanked open the door.

"Agents Bering and Wells are not the problem."

Artie stumbled to a halt as he nearly ran right over Mrs. Fredric.

"Mrs. Fredric, what are you doing here?" Pete said as he quickly grabbed his pants and held them up to cover his yellow ducky boxers.

Seemingly unaware of both Pete's state of undress and Artie's gape-mouthed confusion, Mrs. Fredric breezed into the room and said, "Have a seat, gentlemen; we have a lot to discuss."

Pete hopped into his pants so fast he left scorch marks on his ankles and then dropped into a nearby chair. He tried not to laugh as Artie's jaw continued to move, though no sound emerged.

"Agent Nielsen, please, do sit down," said Mrs. Fredric pleasantly. "I think you'll find that I have many of the answers you seek."

"Bu-but, Agents Bering and Wells?" Dazedly, Artie staggered to a chair and sank into it with a groan. "Am I really that useless that I'm now the last to know anything around here?"

Gently, Mrs. Fredric said, "No, Arthur, that is not the case. I am sorry that I've had to keep both of you in the dark, but for quite some time, I've been afraid that someone on the regent's council was betraying the warehouse. Today, I was proven correct."


Chapter 22

About ten minutes after Myka had left the hotel, Helena finally rolled onto her back, stretched, and let out a soft, almost purr-like sound. "Mmm, now, whatever shall I do for the lovely, delicious Myka this morning?"

Contemplatively, she debated getting up to shower, but then decided to call room service first. Rolling over, she was about to reach for the phone when the soft, tinny jingle of a cell stopped her. With a perplexed frown, Helena got up, padded over to her pile of belongings and retrieved her phone. As she flipped it over, she saw that it was Claudia calling.

Smiling, she accepted the call and said, "Good morning, Claudia darling, what can I do for you?"

There was a soft, masculine chuckle, followed by, "Good morning, my dear."

That voice... Helena's heart began to triphammer as she recognized the voice. Memory twisted, pulsed and burst, dragging her back to a time just days ago.

The restaurant's atmosphere was very continental, and Helena liked that. It felt a bit like home. She'd just given her order to the waiter when someone walked up to her and held out a simple, plain white envelope. Glancing up, she found she was both surprised, and yet, completely relaxed. There was no impetus to speak; calmly, she accepted the envelope as Benedict Valda gave her a sly wink and a nod.

"Valda. You're alive." Helena's voice seethed with anger.

"Yes, my dear, and if you'd like for your little friend Miss Donovan to remain relatively unscathed, you will present yourself to me at the Millennium Garage in fifteen minutes."

"If you've hurt her in any way -" Helena growled even as she began gathering clothes.

"Don't you fret, Miss Wells. I assure you, Miss Donovan is still with us. Claudia," he called out, "do say hello to your friend for me, won't you dear?"

"Don't listen to him, H.G.! He wants to kill you!" Claudia shouted defiantly.

"Now, now, Miss Donovan, remember what I told you? You're being a bad girl," said Valda chidingly.

There was the slapping sound of a hand connecting with flesh, then a cry of pain.

"Valda, stop! I'm coming, just stop hurting her!" Frantic, Helena searched around the room until she located a pen and paper.

"Very good, my dear. See you soon." The phone went dead.

Hurriedly, Helena wrote out a note, pausing only once to close her eyes and control the trembling that was causing her hand to shake. Then, she signed it, pressed a kiss to the bottom, and folded it closed. Inscribing the letter M on an envelope, she slid the letter inside and then quickly got dressed.

In the lobby, she spotted the ever-so-helpful bellhop, Andy, and immediately went to him. Pressing the envelope and a one hundred dollar bill into his hand, she said, "You must see that Miss Burton gets this the moment she returns to the hotel. It is vitally important, do you understand?"

Noting the crazed look in Helena's eyes, Andy accepted the packet, but covered Helena's hand with his before she could let it go. "Are you all right, Miss Wesley?"

She smiled at him reassuringly and said "Of course; I've just been called away on a business meeting and I didn't want her to worry, that's all."

Nodding in understanding, Andy said, "Of course. Then I'll be happy to make sure she gets this as soon as possible."

"Thank you. Now, I'm afraid I really must run." Helena turned and headed outside, veering toward the nearest taxi. Getting in, she said, "Millennium Garage, please. All possible haste." A fifty dollar bill was pressed up against the cage separating the driver from the rear.

"Fifty bucks for a mile fare? You got it, lady!" said the driver as he floored the accelerator. Today was his lucky day.

Myka ambled along, stopping every so often to glance in windows or peruse the wares of street vendors. In one hand, she carried a cup holder bearing two lattes and a bag of pastries, and in the other, a bright bouquet of lilies. She felt like singing; like she should be dancing along the rooftops, caroling her joy for all to hear. Love had never felt so amazing before; truly, she was the most happy she'd ever been.

Just as she came in sight of the Four Seasons, though, her good mood evaporated. In complete shock, she was only able to gawp as Helena leaped into the backseat of a cab. As it began to weave in and out of rush hour traffic, Myka hastily dropped her burdens and started running after it. "Helena! Wait!"

Even at a full out run, Myka was only barely able to keep the cab's taillights in sight. Still, she kept up, aided a few times when the cab had to slow down for cars ahead of it to make a left turn. She dodged pedestrians and vendors alike until she saw the cab vanish into the entrance of a parking garage.

She was about two blocks back at that point, and, taking a breath, Myka poured as much energy as she could into a final burst of speed. Grabbing hold of the butt of the gun strapped under her jacket, she raced into the garage, drew her gun, and shouted, "Helena!"

Helena made it to the garage with only seconds to spare. Tossing the fifty at the driver, she quickly looked around and spotted Valda on the other side of the structure. He smiled in obvious pleasure as she began running toward him, but just as she got within ten feet of his position, he held up a pistol.

"That's far enough my dear," he said as he stepped out and motioned for her to stop. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to remove your jacket."

"Let Claudia go first."

Valda's face darkened and he laughed menacingly. "Surely you don't think I'm going to let her get away so she can tell everyone the incredible tale of my miraculous survival, do you?"

"If you don't want me to start screaming bloody murder, you will let her go." This was the one part of her hastily cobbled plan that Helena wasn't sure would work. She was stalling; buying time for Myka to catch up - she'd seen the agent chasing after her and had begun to hope that she could pull off a rescue without having to resort to plan B.

Valda shook his head and made tsking sounds. "Has no one ever taught you not to bargain with a man who has all the cards? Shame, shame, Miss Wells, you truly do prove yourself to be a relic from another time."

He made a swift gesture and suddenly two very burly men appeared at Helena's side. Each was armed with very deadly looking guns.

"Now stop stalling and get in the damn car."

One of the men shoved his weapon into Helena's back while the other went ahead and opened the door to the car. Helena had just enough time to make eye contact with Claudia and determine that the hacker was battered, but alive, before she was unceremoniously shoved into the vehicle.

As the door shut behind her, Helena quietly said, "Can you move?"

Groggily, Claudia nodded and replied, "But my hands are bound with duct tape. I can't use them to open the door."

"You let me worry about that," Helena whispered in reply. "Just be ready; and when you see Myka, tell her -" Whatever she was about to say was cut off when Valda opened the driver's door.

"Just do your jobs! Make sure we're not followed!" he shouted at the two armed men who each nodded once and then faded into the shadows. Settling into the driver's seat, Valda glanced back at Helena and said, "Do try and restrain any heroic impulses you might have, my dear. I'd hate to have to shoot you so soon."

Helena chose not to reply, but Claudia said, "You know, you've got to be the stupidest bad guy ever. Do you really think you're gonna get away with this? They're gonna find you, and when they do, Myka and Pete are gonna feed you to Artie for breakfast."

Valda chuckled delightedly. "All, but you see, Miss Donovan, they have to actually find me first, and that, my dear, simply won't happen."

As calm as could be, he threw the car in drive and headed for the exit. Just as they passed out of sight of the two lurking guards, Helena acted. Quickly, she leaned over Claudia, opened her door and shoved the startled hacker out, then she leaped forward and wrapped her good arm around Valda's throat, choking him.

Artie still had his head cradled in his hands, but now he looked determined and a bit less confused. "So, you're telling me that MacPherson was either corrupted by or somehow corrupted Mr. Valda, and then together, they plotted to rob the warehouse blind?"

"Yes. You see, when Claudia began finding odd traces in the accounts and records, I took it upon myself to examine those files available only to the regents and discovered something extremely interesting - before being approached to become a regent, Benedict Valda was involved in the import and export of, shall we say, items of questionable legality. Apparently, the council did not find adding a suspected smuggler to the board a troubling issue. This is something that will, I'm certain, change."

Mrs. Fredric went on to explain that she'd traced the partial user ID that was used to hack the financial accounts to one of Valda's original codes. The real kicker was, of course, telling them of Myka's discovery of the Pearl of Wisdom.

"So - H.G. is innocent?" said Pete with a frown. The vibes he'd been getting all along were starting to make an awful lot of sense. And, I was so right about Valda being dirty, too!

Artie snorted. "Right. If H.G. is innocent, then I'm the King of Pop."

Mrs. Fredric favored Artie with a single, raised eyebrow.

"Look, I know you both think I'm nuts, but honestly, if she were so innocent in this, then why is Claudia missing?" Artie was certain H.G. Wells was responsible for everything, including Claudia's abduction.

"Arthur, I'm not sure what facts you are using to base your assumptions upon, but I assure you that H.G. Wells had nothing to do with Claudia's disappearance. I would not have reinstated either agent had I not been absolutely certain of their innocence."

Before she could go further, Artie interjected, "I didn't realize you had that kind of power. I was under the impression that Mr. Kosan was the one who made all decisions regarding warehouse agents. You only suggest candidates."

"With regards to the addition of new agents, yes, my duty is to suggest, but when dealing with an agent in crisis – such as Agent Bering – my duty is clear. I must act to best serve the warehouse, and in this case, I held off in filing Agent Bering's resignation, leaving me free to reinstate her when it became evident that she wished to return to duty. As for Agent Wells, I was informed by Mr. Kosan that I had full authority to deal with the matter as best I saw fit. Once I was certain that the Pearl of Wisdom had truly been involved, I knew that only someone with access to the warehouse could have taken the Pearl; therefor, I could not trust anyone beyond those I had personally cleared of guilt."

"Wait a minute – you thought we were the bad guys?" Pete blurted in shock.

"As ridiculous as it may seem to you, Agent Lattimer, it would not be the first time that trusted agents had gone rogue. However, I can assure you that I was highly doubtful of your guilt."

Artie frowned. "Yet you still kept us in the dark, running around in circles, chasing after shadows until you were sure you could trust us."

Mrs. Fredric turned her implacable gaze on Artie and said, "That is my job, Arthur. Now, are you willing to accept that I had the authority to make the decision regarding Agents Bering and Wells' reinstatement?"

Grumbling softly to himself, Artie rubbed his face and sighed wearily. "I'm sorry, Irene. This is just very difficult for me to accept. I guess I just got used to things the way they were. You're right – it is your job to protect the warehouse, and if you have evidence to support your actions, then who am I to question that?"

With a gentle smile, Mrs. Fredric said, "Arthur, you know that I respect your contentious nature; indeed, I rely upon it to keep you and the other agents focused on the task of finding and archiving artifacts, but in this instance, I hope you can put it aside and trust that I have done my job."

He nodded. "Of course, of course. I'll do my job, Irene, you know I will."

"Me too," Pete said, his tone a bit subdued.

"Good. To get back to where we were, with regards to Miss Donovan's disappearance, I can personally verify that both Agents Bering and Wells have been here, in Chicago, for the last twenty-four hours, and that it's very likely that Agent Wells is in considerable danger."

"Myka and H.G. are here?" Pete yelped, leaping to his feet. "I knew it!" He began to pace. "Man, I knew something was up when we sent those tapes from the depot to Claudia and she said she couldn't find them." Myka and H.G had wanted them to believe that they'd taken the first bus out of the city, but Pete's vibes had had him wondering otherwise.

"A necessary omission, I'm afraid, Agent Lattimer," said Mrs. Fredric solemnly. Pete shook his head, and sighed. His expression was one of supreme irritation, but before he could say anything, Artie interrupted.

"Wait, wait, what does it matter if Valda's original codes were used – he's dead. He died in Warehouse 2. No, no, I just don't buy that H.G. Wells isn't somehow involved. Maybe, maybe someone used the Pearl of Wisdom on her, or maybe she's the one who took it, to make it look like it had been used on her." Directing a pointed glance at Mrs. Fredric, Artie added, "This wouldn't be the first time you've been wrong about a former agent. I know it would be easier if I just accepted your judgment, Irene, but like you said - you need my contentiousness."

Pinning the older agent with her calm, but penetrating gaze, Mrs. Fredric said, "Calm down, Arthur. It's obvious that this has taken you by surprise. Clearly, the pain from your injury has made it difficult for you to think rationally, so I will take that into consideration and ignore your tone."

The room's temperature suddenly dropped twenty degrees. Slowly, Artie looked away, his expression clearly showing his capitulation, though his posture betrayed his displeasure.

"Now, let me continue. In the course of our investigations, Claudia and I discovered many interesting things, but it was her most recent find that led me to come here. You see, she answered the question I had not dared voice: How could Benedict Valda have survived being burned alive?"

Both men turned the question over in their minds, and both of them seemed to come to the same conclusion as Pete whispered, "Oh no," and Artie just growled, "The Phoenix."

Gun drawn, Myka sidestepped along the wall of the garage, scanning in as many directions as she could. Slowly, she moved forward, jerking to a stop every time she heard something move. Distantly, she heard the sound of a car's engine and began running toward it.

At full speed, she shot around a corner and was nearly clipped by a wavering, slightly out-of-control dark sedan. Myka had just seconds to realize that it was Benedict Valda behind the wheel before she heard someone shout, "Myka, look out!"

Without a second thought, Myka ducked and rolled toward the shout, narrowly avoiding being shot by a large man that had leaped from the shadows. She came up firing, hitting him twice in the chest and once in the shoulder as he went down. Before she had a chance to recover, shots came from a second direction, and she dove to the side, putting herself behind a parked car and the direction from where the gunfire was emerging. Anxiously, she glanced over toward where the wavering car was careening toward a bank of parked cars. She was just about to jump out and go after it, when it came to a sudden halt. There was a flash of light from within, and then, it took off once more, heading at full clip toward the garage exit. Cursing softly, Myka started to follow, when a familiar voice called out to her.

"Oh my God, you're a sight for sore eyes."

Startled, Myka glanced down and spotted Claudia huddled up under a car, her arms bound behind her back, and her face a bloody mess.

"Claudia! What are you doing here?"

"Long story - first, get the other guy and then I'll tell you all about it."

"You're okay, though?" Torn between the desire to go after Valda, look for Helena, and protect Claudia, Myka chewed on her lip and shifted from foot to foot.

"I'm better than H.G.'s gonna be if Valda gets to have his way with her," Claudia replied darkly.

"Valda's got Helena?" Myka felt like she'd been kicked in the gut by a mule. "But isn't he a regent? Won't he just take her to - wait, Valda's dead! What's going on here?" Myka's tone grew sharp as worry and confusion made her babble.

Another gunshot pushed aside all that, though, and Myka hastily returned her attention to locating the second gunman.

Slowly, she moved along behind the cars, silently ordering Claudia to stay put. Claudia grinned and shrugged as if to ask, "Where else am I going to go?"

Nodding once, Myka continued stalking the other guard. She could see him now; a portion of his right shoulder was just visible over the trunk of a parked Nissan.

Forcefully, Myka shouted, "Secret Service! Put down your weapon and surrender now!"

As soon as the man stood to shoot at her, she fired, clipping him in the shoulder, the arm, and finally, striking him square in the center of his chest. He fell with a heavy thud and only then, did she hear the sound of sirens approaching. Quickly, she raced over to Claudia, helped her get out from under the car and then pushed her toward the elevator. She was inside, pressing the button for the basement level when the first police car arrived on scene.

The minute the elevator doors closed, Myka holstered her weapon and started working on getting Claudia out of the duct tape binding. "Okay, talk, now," she said as she picked and pulled on the stubborn tape.

"Well, it started when Mrs. F told me to go home. I was just minding my own business, heading toward the Camino when, suddenly, everything went black -"

"So if Myka and H.G. have been working on this all along, how come you didn't let us in on it?" said Pete as they all sat, staring at untouched cups of coffee.

Mrs. Fredric sighed. "I truly am sorry about that, but once I knew you were innocent, I felt it best to keep you in the dark until I was absolutely certain you were not in any danger." She turned and addressed Artie, specifically. "Please, don't be too hard on Claudia - she was acting under my orders."

After the stunning revelation about the Phoenix, Artie had gone completely silent as whatever wheels that made his brain function worked overtime to assimilate the new information. Pete, on the other hand, had plenty of questions, which Mrs. Fredric seemed happy to answer.

He was heartened to learn that his partner was both innocent of any wrongdoing and back on the job, and even more surprised to discover that Claudia had known almost from the get-go that he and Artie were chasing shadows. I'm seriously going to make Myka pay for Cottonwood, though. That was just mean!

Artie cleared his throat. "All right - say I've been horribly wrong, and H.G. is not a threat, that the real villain is Valda. What does he want? What is his reason for causing all this havoc in the first place?"

"There are many motives for a man's actions, Arthur. Valda's happen to be one of the basest - money. My research uncovered a cleverly hidden trail that began with thefts of small artifacts from the warehouse and ended with large sums of untraceable money being deposited in an offshore account belonging to a shell corporation that was traced to Valda. From there, it was easy enough to match up the dates of when the artifacts went missing to dates when Valda had been in the warehouse."

"Okay, so Valda's behind it all – why all the stuff with H.G.? Why go all Day After Tomorrow with the trident if all he wants is to get rich?" Pete asked, having a difficult time wrapping his head around all this new information.

It was Artie who responded. "To distract us. Warehouse 2 must've been his goal all along. Imagine Pete - it would be a lifetime's supply of artifacts all at his beck and call." He shook his head. "In fact, while you guys were off acting as bait for Warehouse 2's protections, he was probably lining his pockets with whatever he could grab." Contemplatively, he added, "I imagine that H.G. was never meant to get as far as she did. In fact, I think he was counting on the fact that we'd kill her. I don't think he realized just how resourceful H.G. Wells is."

By the time Myka and Claudia made it to the hotel, Myka was in no state to deal with the bellhop chasing after her, calling, "Miss Burton, please, hold up."

It was Claudia who hissed, "Hey, Myka, head's up, that's you he's talking to."

Shaking off the haze of grief and anger threatening to overwhelm her, Myka stopped and turned to face the winded bellhop. With an effort, she pasted a pleasant smile on her face and said, "Yes?"

"Sorry, ma'am, but, Miss Wesley instructed me to make certain you received this the moment you returned. Here," he said, thrusting a cream colored envelope toward her. "She's very sorry. I think she said something about having to attend a business meeting."

Numbly, Myka accepted the envelope and before she could even think to tip him, the bellhop was gone.

The outside of the envelope was inscribed with a single, gorgeously inked letter M.

Trembling, Myka clutched the envelope against her chest and bolted for the elevator. Claudia had to struggle to keep up, but eventually, they made it back to the Author's Suite, whereupon Myka staggered into the bedroom and collapsed on the bed. Claudia got as far as the couch before dropping and letting out a long held groan of pain.

On the bed, Myka lay curled in Helena's spot, breathing in her lover's distinctive, spicy scent and shaking as she fought back tears. Slowly, she forced herself to raise her arm, uncurl her fist, and open the letter.

My dearest Myka:

To say that this is the last way in which I wanted to put these words in your hands is perhaps the greatest understatement I've ever uttered. However, there is simply no other way for me to be certain that you have the opportunity to know them for the truth that they are. You are, without a doubt, the only person I have ever wished I could introduce to my daughter. I say this, not because I wish to wallow in my grief, but because I think of you as someone she would have adored; much as I adore you. I don't know if I can appropriately convey the depth to which you have sunk into my heart, so I must rely on the simplicity of my words. I love you, Myka Bering. I want to spend the rest of my life with you.

Now, to business. Just shortly after you left this morning, I was contacted by Benedict Valda. He is not, as we had assumed, dead. In fact, as I write this, I realize that he must have taken the Phoenix from the warehouse. It is one of the only ways in which he could have survived the conflagration we saw consume him. As we have each handled the artifact, it is likely that its curse fell upon some poor soul residing near the dig site. It must have been he who implanted me with the Pearl of Wisdom for it was his directives I followed, though it seems unlikely that his ultimate goal was the destruction of the planet. I believe he sought to distract you all so that he could get his people in place at Warehouse 2. He has kidnapped Claudia and offered her in exchange for me.

"What? Oh, no, no, please tell me you weren't foolish enough to believe you'd be able to get away with the exchange," Myka muttered through the tears that were pouring down her face. As if Helena had expected her outburst, the letter continued.

I doubt his intentions are honorable, however, I cannot allow him to harm Claudia. If there is a chance I can save her, I must try. I know that you are near. It is my hope that you will see me, and follow, so that you can stop him. If you cannot, you must not - must not - blame yourself. Just find me, my love. I will wait for you, no matter what.

It was signed with an elegant letter H. Below that, Myka could just make out the impression of Helena's lips on the paper.

Over and over, Myka read the letter until the overwhelming grief balled up inside her, becoming an incandescent ball of white hot anger. Dashing away her tears, she got out of the bed and went out to find Claudia. Seeing the extent of the younger woman's injuries only made the anger that much worse, yet she allowed none of it to show. Quietly, she said, "I'm calling Mrs. Fredric, Claudia. Go start getting cleaned up and I'll be in to help you as soon as I can."

"So what's our first move?" said Pete once Mrs. Fredric had finished explaining everything.

Before she could form a reply, her phone rang. Answering it, she listened briefly before saying, "Just one moment please," and then, she put the phone on speaker and set it on the table. "Go ahead Agent Bering. We are listening."

"Benedict Valda is alive. He's taken Helena. I believe he intends to kill her." Myka's voice was so calm, she may as well have been reciting a grocery list.

"Myka, Claudia's missing," said Pete. "Do you think Valda has her, too?"

"He did, but she's with me now. Helena traded herself for Claudia's freedom." Now there was some inflection to her words - a level of grief that she quickly suppressed with her next statement. "I'm at the Four Seasons. The Author Suite. Please hurry. We've got to get Helena back."


Chapter 23

As soon as Claudia had cleared the car door and landed safely on the garage's pavement, Helena released her grasp on Valda. He slammed on the brakes, turned and aimed the taser at her. "You have no idea how much I want to hurt you right now," he growled softly.

She smiled, her lips curving into a sensuous, mocking grin. "Go ahead. Hurt me - I don't care. You don't control me anymore, Mr. Valda. I'm not your patsy and I won't be your victim, so go on, do it. I promise you, it will be the very last thing you do to harm anyone."

Baring his teeth in a snarl, Valda pulled the trigger, blasting Helena with a massive jolt of electricity. It wasn't enough to kill, but was more than sufficient to cause Helena a great deal of pain.

Gritting her teeth, Helena doubled over and hissed, "Bastard." She would not give him the satisfaction of screaming. He pulled the trigger again, and again, and she was enveloped in blistering heat that crackled like thousands of maddened bees over her skin. Helena endured for as long as she could but by the third shot, her already battered body gave up, and she collapsed, unconscious.

"You will suffer for your crimes, H.G. Wells. Justice will be mine." Laying the taser on the passenger seat, Valda stomped on the gas pedal and drove away, racing past several cop cars as they headed for the garage exit.

Helena jerked awake. An obnoxious smelling object was removed from under her nose and replaced by Valda's equally disgusting breath. He bent over, getting right up in her face.

"Glad to have you join us, Miss Wells. It seems that it is time to have a good, old fashioned question and answer session. I ask; you answer. You refuse; I'll make you wish you hadn't." He smiled. It wasn't pleasant. "Please, refuse to answer all you like - it will only make the proceedings far more interesting."

Blinking from the glare of the harsh, single light bulb that was suspended above her, Helena attempted to discern her location, but all she could see was the brightness of light and the darkness of shadow. Valda was constantly moving around her, never staying in one place for more than a heartbeat. The chair under her was hard and cold - metal, most likely. Her wrists were bound behind her back and the strain of the position was already causing jagged streaks of pain to shoot across her left shoulder.

Looking down, she saw that her feet were bound in chains that were attached to the floor. She was completely immobilized. Fear etched a path of terror up her spine. Still, she put on a brave face.

"I have nothing to say to you."

Valda's smile was almost cheerful as he balled up his fist and sucker punched her in the gut. "Oh good. I was hoping I'd get to have some fun." He hit her again, and then, as she coughed and wheezed and spat, he stepped back and said, "Now, first question – what have you told them?"

Myka's face was a stony mask as she opened the hotel room door to admit Pete, Artie, and Mrs. Fredric. Artie pushed past her and went immediately to Claudia, who was lying on the couch with an ice-filled cloth pressed against her jaw. Pete paused and shot Myka a concerned look, but she ignored him. Instead, she turned to Mrs. Fredric and in a small, thin voice said, "I should have called you last night. Helena's been having these awful headaches, but she convinced me that she was fine. Now, I don't know what to think."

She was wringing her hands and scuffing her foot on the floor, looking very much like a child expecting to be heavily reprimanded. Mrs. Fredric caught her hands in her own and said, "Yes, I expected as much." When Myka's head shot up and her expression showed her surprise, Mrs. Fredric nodded slowly and then smiled gently. "It will be all right, Agent Bering. What she's experiencing is the aftereffects of the Pearl's presence. It can be repaired, I assure you."

Biting her lip, Myka sighed. "That's what she said." Frowning slightly, she added, "I really should have called you, I guess."

Mrs. Fredric shook her head. "I wouldn't have been able to do much good at that point. Now, I think we should put this discussion aside and figure out how we're going to bring Agent Wells home, don't you agree?"

Nodding resolutely, Myka stepped away from Mrs. Fredric and allowed the older woman to enter the room. Turning to face Pete, she offered him a nervous smile and said, "Hi Pete."

There were so many things on the tip of his tongue, but he threw them all aside and said, "Are you okay? You look like someone drop kicked your favorite puppy to the moon."

Still allowing very little emotion to show, Myka shook her head slightly and said, "No." But then, she looked up, and her eyes were filled with a frightful gleam. "But I will be."

He shivered, but smiled anyway. "You know, when this is over, I totally owe you for that mess in Cottonwood, right?"

That brought her up short. Closing her eyes briefly, Myka bit her lip and this time, more of her usual self shone through as she said, "Listen, about that? I'm really sorry. Like, really, really sorry. And I promise, I'll make it up to you, I will." Her eyes were glassy by the time she'd finished her apology.

"Hey, whoa, whoa, it's okay, Myka. It wasn't that bad, well, not for me anyway. Um, don't cry?" Without knowing what to do, he kind of stood there, and then, gave himself a mental shove. That's Myka you dolt! She's upset and you need to step up and be her partner!

Myka fought the grief that threatened to overwhelm her. She could see the concern in Pete's face, but she needed to hold on, needed to be strong so that she could be ready when it was time to rescue Helena. Sniffling, she said, "I'm good. I'm fine." An errant tear betrayed her though, and suddenly, she was enveloped in Pete's arms.

He held her gently, awkwardly patting her back and mumbling that it would be okay while she sobbed into his chest.

Across the room, Artie knelt beside Claudia and gently took the ice pack from her. Brushing her hair out of her face, he examined the damage and then softly said, "Hey kiddo."

Claudia tried to smile, but ended up wincing instead. "Hey."

"Who did this to you, Claudia?" It was the most patient and gentle Artie had ever been, and that alone scared Claudia.

"It wasn't H.G.!" she said insistently as she grabbed for the ice pack. "Ow," she murmured.

Artie's face darkened at the mention of the missing woman. Even with all that he'd learned, he just couldn't let go of his suspicions. They were too ingrained, too easy to fall prey to, and it made him leery of anything that went contrary to them, even when it was the truth. "Are you sure? Claudia, she's a very dangerous woman." The look of disbelief on his face was the last straw for the young hacker.

"Artie, shut up and listen to me, because I'm only going to say this once," said Claudia. She pulled the ice pack away from her face and made sure that the older agent was looking right at her. "Now, I know that you've got a major issue with H.G. and while I have no idea what your deal is, I'm okay with it, as long as you don't act like an idiot. Right now, you're acting like the biggest idiot to walk the planet, so do me a favor and read my lips - H.G. is innocent. She didn't hurt me, Artie, it was Valda. Okay? Did you get that, or do I have to spell it out for you? V-A-L-D-A. Valda, the regent, the creepy British guy who always smelled like bad cologne, capiche?" As soon as she finished speaking, Claudia dropped the ice pack back on her face and went back to moaning softly in pain.

Artie's face was a mask of irritation, but he held his tongue. Standing, he turned and faced Myka, who was just pulling away from Pete and wiping her face. Not able to quite hide the pain in his tone, he said, "Myka. You should have called. We would have helped you, that first night." He tried to go to her, but she backed away from him. "You should have called in, Myka. You had no idea how dangerous H.G. was – you, you could have been killed!" His strident tone displayed nothing of the very real and deep sense of worry he felt.

Fury blazed across Myka's face. "Called you, Artie? Why in the hell would I have called you about H.G. Wells? You were so convinced – hell, we were all convinced that she was evil. You'd have come out there, guns blazing, and had her packed off to the Bronze sector before we had a chance to learn anything. Before I had a chance - " Covering her mouth, she held up her other hand as if to ward him off. Several long seconds ticked by as she fought a fresh wave of grief. "No, no, Artie. I would never call you for anything to do with Helena. I did the right thing."

Feeling as though he'd been kicked in the gut, Artie blustered, "But why, Myka? Why do you always come to her defense? You were on her side from the start! You never listened to me about her! You never understood just what kind of danger she is! She's H.G. Wells! Don't you get it?" Grabbing her arms, he shook her, trying to force her to understand his words. "She's not supposed to be out there, Myka. The world cannot have H.G. Wells running around, doing God knows what! She belongs in the Bronze sector!" He had to try to make her understand, had to try to make them all see that artifacts were artifacts, and no matter how people-shaped they were, they were dangerous.

"No!" Myka jerked free of Artie's grip and slapped him, hard. "If you ever talk that way about the woman I love again, so help me, I will make you regret those words. Helena is a human being, not an artifact that you can hide away in the warehouse because you're afraid that maybe something might happen. You know what? Something did happen - but it isn't what you're afraid of. She didn't unleash chaos, she calmed it. She didn't spread fear and dissent, she gave me love - more than I have ever felt. So if you want to have anything to do with me at all, you need to take that attitude and lock it in the Dark Vault forever."

From over on the couch, Claudia gave a soft cheer and chanted, "Go Myka, go Myka!"

Pete, on the other hand, let out a crow of laughter. "Ho-ho, I knew it! Myka, you and Helena were gettin' down with your bad selves in the back of that funky shag van. Score!" He did a little dance and then stopped and said, "Dude, you are so going to share, too. This is going to be like the best stakeout gossip, ever!"

The exact content of Pete's words took approximately eight-point-five seconds to pierce the haze of anger surrounding Myka's thoughts, but when they did, she turned a brilliant scarlet and rounded on her partner. "Pete!" she shrieked in mortification, which only caused him to waggle his eyebrows at her.

"Hey, hey, what can I say, I'm a red-blooded American male. I gotta get my kicks somehow."

Glancing between Pete and Artie, Myka's expression shifted back and forth between anger and shock. Inarticulate noises gurgled in her throat as she held up a hand and shook a finger at both men. Finally, a single voice cut through the room.

"Enough. We have an agent to rescue and a traitor to capture. It is time to put aside these petty problems and deal with the situation." Mrs. Fredric's low, icy-smooth voice hit everyone like a bucket of cold water. As they all shook themselves and turned to look at her, she smiled grimly. "Thank you. Now, Arthur, your continued inability to recognize simple facts frankly has me very concerned. If you need to sit this one out, I can arrange transportation to a secure facility for you."

"Go Mrs. F," Claudia whispered, which earned her a quick glare. "Sorry," she said sheepishly. "Shutting up now."

Artie sighed. What was wrong with him? Had he become so focused on the work that he'd forgotten that these people were his friends? Taking off his hat, he rubbed his head and then slumped into himself. "I - that won't be necessary, Irene. I can do my job." He turned to Myka and said, "I'm sorry. I know she means a lot to you. I guess I get too close to my job sometimes, and I forget that there's a human side."

Not entirely satisfied, but knowing that it would have to do for now, Myka nodded. "Sometimes, I don't know if I can ever forget, even when it isn't about someone I love." She turned to Mrs. Fredric. "I don't know if this is a place to start or not, but last night, Helena and I checked out that address Claudia gave us. It's a warehouse on the dock, and there were far more guards than necessary patrolling the place."

"Hey! We were there, too!" Pete interjected.

Myka just grinned. "I know. We saw you."

"And you totally hid from us? No fair!"

"We weren't exactly working together at that point," Myka said sourly.

"Oh yeah," replied Pete with a goofy grin.

Myka rolled her eyes and then, to Mrs. Fredric said, "So I was wondering, if that was where Valda was when he hacked the warehouse computers, that maybe that's where he's headquartered now? I mean, do you think maybe, he took Helena there?"

"I don't know. I'm sure it's certainly something you and Agent Lattimer should check out. Meanwhile, I believe that we will remain behind and attempt alternate means of locating Valda."

Claudia sat up and tossed the ice pack onto the coffee table. "I think that's my cue." She glanced up at Myka, smiled sweetly and said, "You wouldn't happen to have a computer around here, would you?"

Valda rained questions down on her for several hours, but throughout, Helena remained silent. She neither provoked nor shied away from Valda's blows, so by the time he was called away, she was sore all over. He'd hit her, kicked her, he'd even gone so far as to grab her hair, yank her head back and threaten to cut her throat, and all she'd done was smile. Each time, he'd ended his threats with a single, powerful blow to her head or gut.

She breathed in slowly, the pain from cracked ribs letting her know that she wouldn't be able to take much more abuse before the damage became permanent. Soon, she would have to relent; to begin the careful, creative lies that she'd been silently constructing. He would not believe her - she already knew he was hurting her just to see her squirm - but the lies would buy that much more time for Myka to find her. And Myka would find her - Helena's belief in that was so strong, she refused to even consider any other outcome.

Licking cracked, blood flecked lips, she tried to take in a deep breath and paused as the tang of something other than copper skated across her tongue. Closing her eyes, Helena tried to concentrate, tried to push aside the agony just long enough to get some sense of her surroundings.

The dockside warehouse showed signs of a hasty evacuation. Where before there had been guards and locked doors, now there was nothing but a lot of disturbed dust and the scattered remnants of several empty shipping crates.

There'd been no need to try and finagle their way inside - the building was abandoned. Cautiously, Pete and Myka made their way through the warehouse, checking for signs of life.

There was nothing to be found - even the trash cans were empty. In one room, they did uncover a few computer cables, but the machine to which they'd been attached was gone.

They struck pay-dirt when Pete opened a file cabinet and discovered a piece of paper caught in one of the metal seams of the drawer.

"Hey-oh, what's this?" he said as he tugged it free. The paper tore a little, but he was able to bring it out and lay it on the desk.

Myka leaned over and aimed her flashlight directly onto the page. "Driscoll's Freight and Hauling. Ten small crates, equaling a quarter ton, twenty medium crates, equaling a full ton - Pete, this is part of a shipping manifest."

"Okay, so how does it help us?" He continued to dig around in the filing cabinet, even going so far as to try and move it away from the wall.

Scratching her head, Myka said, "I don't know. Um, well, we know that the warehouse belongs to Valda, right?" On the way to the docks, Claudia had passed along what little she'd been able to dig up so far, including that little tidbit.


"What do you think he might be shipping? Didn't you say you found out that Valda was a smuggler?"

"Yup. That's what Mrs. F said," he replied distractedly as he poked around behind the cabinet. There was something back there, lying just out of his reach.

Chewing on her lip, Myka paced around the room as she worked things out in her head. "He must have had some way to move the artifacts he stole. Could he be hiding them in plain sight? Put them with something like antiques or souvenirs?"

Struggling to reach the small object that glinted just beyond the tips of his fingers, Pete said, "Maybe. Does it matter? We know he's the bad guy now."

Frustrated, Myka stamped her foot and said, "Of course it matters! If Helena isn't here, she's got to be somewhere else, and we have to find her!"

Pausing in his activity, Pete glanced up at Myka and said, "I hate to say this, but are you sure she's alive? I mean, why wouldn't he have just killed her and run?"

Myka went absolutely white at the thought. "No," she whispered. "No, I refuse to believe she's dead. Why go to all the trouble of kidnapping Claudia, then using her phone to contact Helena if all he was going to do was kill her the moment he had her. No, she's alive, Pete. I'm sure of it."

"All right, all right. Calm down, sheesh. Hey, come here and give me a hand with this, it's stuck. There's something back here."

Going to Pete's side, she positioned herself so that she could help him shove the heavy file cabinet further away from the wall. Slowly, letting off several loud creaks and groans as it moved, Pete was finally able to lean over and retrieve the fallen object.

"Ah ha!" He held up a slightly battered plastic pen. Frowning, he said, "Okay, what is it? Oh, wait, I know, maybe it's the pen that signed the Declaration of Independence!"

Myka rolled her eyes. "Oh please, Pete. Those were probably made out of goose quills, not plastic." She grabbed the pen and twisted it, adding, "And they certainly didn't have, 'Anubis Shipping' stenciled on the side."

Pete shook his head, laughing softly while Myka just stared at him. Suddenly, they both said, "Anubis Shipping!" Pete drew the Farnsworth out, opened it, punched a button and as soon as Artie's face appeared, Pete blurted, "Anubis Shipping - what can you find out about it?"

In the background, they could hear the rapid clattering of keys as Claudia typed. Artie moved so that he was stationed just behind her and turned the Farnsworth so that Pete and Myka could see the computer screen.

At first, the search showed very little other than the information that was publicly available about the small shipping company, but then Claudia worked some her brand of mojo and suddenly, they were looking at a list of ships, routes, and dates of entry and exit from several ports of call. Claudia scrolled down and highlighted one of the ships, the Eye of Horus, and clicked on it.

"Well, that's interesting," said Pete as Myka turned to run for the door.

The ship was berthed at a dock only about five miles from the dockside warehouse and was scheduled to depart for Canada in two hours.

Artie's face reappeared suddenly. "Wait for us, Pete. Don't try anything without back up. Claudia and I will be there as soon as we can."

For a moment, Pete looked as if he were going to protest the order, but then, as he began to consider the logistics of storming a cargo ship with just his partner as back up, he said, "Right. We'll meet you there."

As soon as he'd pocketed the Farnsworth, he ran after Myka yelling, "Hey, wait up!"

He caught up to her at the car. She was pacing back and forth, one hand on her gun, the other fisted up against her mouth. As soon as he came into sight, she said, "Okay, you are going to create a diversion while I sneak on board and -"

He shook his head. "We are going to wait for Artie and Claudia to arrive with some back up. Then we are going to get on that ship and rescue your girlfriend."

For a minute, Myka looked like she was going to whip out her gun and shoot him, but then, she closed her eyes and said, "Do you have any idea how ridiculous I would have found what you just said two days ago?"

He grinned, opened the car door, got in, then leaned his head out the window and said, ""Not nearly as crazy as I would have found it if you'd told me a week ago that your girlfriend was H.G. Wells. I mean, come on, Myka - she was into me first; I swear I even got tongue."

Yanking open the passenger door, Myka got in and retorted, "Pete! She wasn't into you; she was using her feminine wiles to get the drop on you. As I recall, it worked."

Holding up his hands in surrender, Pete shrugged and said, "Well, what can I say - she's got an awesome set of wiles."

Jaw dropping, Myka reached over and slapped him on the leg. "Hey! That's my girlfriend you're talking about, Buster! Now shut up and get us to that ship! Helena doesn't have much time."

Valda had returned and continued the beating. Question after question was met with impassive silence as Helena defied his every attempt at getting her to talk. Finally, rage drove him to slam his fist into her head so hard that it knocked her clean out.

Now, he was just outside the door to the room where he'd had Helena taken, talking on a cell phone. "No, she refuses to answer my questions. I don't know. I've done everything short of pulling out her fingernails and she refuses to even scream. The bitch is more resilient than I was led to believe."

He listened as the person on the other end spoke. "Yes, of course I know that, but what do you want me to do? If she dies, I won't get any of the answers you seek."

There was another pause, and then, his whole face lit up as he smiled. "Oh, yes, of course, of course. I'm sure she'll enjoy that. I know I will." He closed the phone, pocketed it, and then turned to two of his henchmen and said, "Bring me Cerletti's Box."


Chapter 24

Helena awoke to find herself soaking wet and strapped down to a padded steel table. Her head, arms, waist, and legs were all fastened in nylon straps which held her flat on her back. The dull, throbbing ache in her head was just a precursor of the pain she knew was coming. One thing I can say for being tortured it certainly did keep my mind off these blasted headaches!

Opening her eyes, she looked up to see Valda standing above her. The moment he noticed she was conscious, he smiled and said, "So good of you to join us, my dear. We were just about to begin a rather shocking conversation. Care to join in?" His smile grew cold as he reached down and ripped open her shirt.

Ignoring her partial nudity, he carefully used a towel to dry small patches of her skin and then affixed several long wires with medical tape.

"You see, my dear, I've recently acquired a rather miraculous device. Possibly you've heard of it? Cerletti's box?" When he didn't see any recognition in her eyes, he shook his head and said, "No? Pity, it was after your time, I suppose. Anyway, this rather brilliant man devised a machine that uses electricity to shock the sick back to health. Quite popular it was, I'm told. Anyway, this little baby," said Valda conversationally as he turned and patted the ornately carved wooden box from which the wires emerged, "was his personal project. A little something extra for those particularly difficult to cure patients." Leaning down, he got right in Helena's face and whispered, "I can't wait to show you how it works."

Sweating with the effort to withstand her fear, Helena whispered, "Well, in the interest of science then."

Valda smiled gleefully. "That's exactly what I'd hoped you'd say." Twisting a nob inside the box, he said, "This is level one." As if he were squashing a bug, he depressed a button with his thumb.

The machine hummed to life. Each cable suddenly became alive with electricity as sparks jumped and danced along the length of the wire. As soon as the wave touched Helena's body, her eyes rolled backwards and she cried out in pain. One of the arcs peeled away from the cable and wrapped around Valda, causing him to groan as a torrent of pleasure tore through his body.

For a full minute, he allowed himself to revel in the satisfaction of seeing Helena's pain and then, he reached over and cut off the device.

"Now," he said, licking his lips lasciviously, "I'll ask you again - what do they know? How much did you tell them about my operation?"

Helena sneered and replied, "Go to hell."

"Tsk, tsk. I guess we'll have to try level two then." Twisting the dial, he smiled in anticipatory glee and then, depressed the button.

Helena's scream echoed like sweet, sweet music around him.

When the cavalry arrived, it arrived in style. Several dozen armed men and women, all dressed in the black uniform of the warehouse security squad, poured from their vehicles and positioned themselves alongside Artie, Claudia and Mrs. Fredric.

The Caretaker was flanked on either side by two large, heavily armed men. In one hand, she held a radio, and in the other, she carried a gun. Right on her heels, dressed in black camouflage and carrying both a weapon and a medical bag, was Dr. Vanessa Calder.

Pete was suitably impressed. Myka was too busy bouncing in place to care. As soon as Mrs. Fredric came up to them, Myka said, "Can we go now? It's almost time for them to shove off."

"Not just yet. My men will deploy first. Once the fighting begins, I want you and Agent Lattimer to sneak aboard. Find Agent Wells. Artie and Claudia will hang back and provide any assistance you may require."

"Okay, fine, whatever. Just go, go, go!" Myka was about to vibrate out of her own skin. Something was wrong, she could just feel it. It was like every hair on her body had suddenly turned into needle-fine shards of glass and, whenever she thought of Helena, they would stand straight up and dig tiny furrows of prickly fear into her flesh.

Turning away from the agents, Mrs. Fredric exchanged a few brief words with the security team and then, through the lenses of a pair of night vision binoculars, she watched as they deployed. As soon as the first shot rang out, she nodded to Pete and Myka. "Go! Now! Quickly!"

With Myka in the lead, Pete, Artie, and Claudia raced for the gangplank of the cargo ship.

Calmly, Dr. Calder took up a position near Mrs. Fredric and said, "You do realize that if anything happens to Agent Wells, that we'll be down by not one, but two of the finest agents to ever serve the warehouse?"

"I am fully aware of that, Dr. Calder. Why do you think I invited our friends to the party?" replied Mrs. Fredric as she indicated the two strapping men who were standing guard over them.

"Ah. I'd wondered about all the firepower," replied the doctor with a wry grin.

There was fighting all over the upper decks of the ship. Pockets of resistance forced Pete and Myka to make their way across the deck slowly, ducking behind whatever cover they could find. Behind them, Artie and Claudia quietly bickered over which of the artifacts in Artie's bag were more efficient at subduing the resistance.

"Guys, guys! Stop for a minute!" said Myka suddenly. They all stopped.

"What is it, Myka?" Artie said as he played with what looked like a pinwheel.

"We're doing this wrong. We've got to figure out where Helena is right now before Valda realizes that all the noise out here isn't coming from Soldier Field." She pointed upward, indicating the fireworks display overhead.

"Ooo, right," said Pete. "Hey, do you have some kind of, oh I don't know, you know, like a thing from Star Trek? A tricorder! Yeah, that's it. Something that checks for life signs. Anyway, yeah, do you have one of those tucked away in that bag of tricks of yours, Dr. Artie?"

Artie dug around in the bag until he came up with a small vial containing a dark crimson liquid. He looked at it, looked at Pete, and then quickly shook his head. "No. Oh no, not this. Anything but this."

"What is it?" Pete, Claudia, and Myka all asked.

"Bloodhound No. 9," replied Artie with distaste. "It was developed for the warehouse by Chanel."

"What does it do?" said Claudia as she started to reach for the vial.

"It gives the wearer the tracking abilities of a bloodhound," said Artie. As Claudia's fingers closed around the vial, he added, "Unfortunately, it also makes them behave like a dog. Barking. Scratching. Chasing their tails - it's very distracting."

Claudia quickly jerked her hand back. "Okay. I guess that's out."

At the same time, Myka whispered, "I'll do it."

Artie shook his head. "No, you can't." At Myka's outraged glare, he reached out, gently touched her arm and said, "You can't, because if Helena's hurt, she's going to need you to be all there for her."

Everyone turned to Pete, who shrugged and gave a half smile. "I guess that just leaves me then. I should have known that when I fell in love with a veterinarian my life would go to the dogs."

After instructing Pete to put a dab of the liquid just under his nose, Artie stepped back, pulling Claudia with him. "Okay, now, we need a way for you to be able to pick up Helena's scent. Myka, do you have anything of hers with you?"

Looking suddenly very worried, Myka said, "No. Was I supposed to bring something?"

With a bit of his normal acerbity, Artie replied, "No, no, of course not. You couldn't have known about this. Okay, we'll just have to do this the hard way. Pete, why don't you just -"

Claudia cut him off. "Smell Myka," she said, as a knowing grin spread across her lips.

Pete frowned but gamely stepped up and began snuffling around Myka's neck and shoulders. "Why am I doing this aga- oh hey, there's something here and it's not the same as - oh Myka, we are definitely talking abou-ou-ou-uff! Uff, uff, uff." Pete's command of language suddenly vanished as he turned and started to shamble in the direction of the ship's bow.

He got maybe five feet away before he turned, barked once and then shook himself. "Well come on, she's this way." Pointing excitedly, he started to run toward the bow of the ship.

They raced along, following Pete's unerring sense of direction, encountering only token resistance until Pete suddenly pulled up short at the end of walkway. Silently, he indicated that around the corner were two guards. Everyone nodded, and Claudia exaggeratedly mouthed, "Now what?"

Each of them stood there with identical expressions of confusion on their faces until Pete got an "aha!" look and began vigorously pointing at a ladder that led to an upper deck.

At first, no one got it, but then, Myka clued in and silently went, "Oh yeah, yeah, and -" Quickly she mimed tossing something toward the intersection of the walkway and then knocking out the guard who came to investigate.

Artie looked at her as if she was insane, but Claudia got it and grinned. Quietly, she ran back a few feet, grabbed something from the deck and returned. Victoriously, she displayed a length of pipe, causing Myka to give her a wink and a thumbs-up in response.

Insistently, Artie held up his bag and shook it at them, but it was too late. Pete had already started to climb the ladder. Clapping his hand over his face, Artie shook his head and then turned to Myka. She was busy positioning Claudia in the shadows and instructing her to aim for the knees while she went for their intended victim's head.

Seeing that he was to be excluded from this little set of shenanigans, Artie ducked back out of the way and readied his Tesla. It never hurt to be prepared. In that moment, he realized that his agents – his people – were all working together like a well oiled machine. And they didn't need you, you old fuddy-duddy. Not knowing whether he was proud or sad, Artie sighed, and waited for the action to begin.

When the attack went down, it unfolded almost exactly as they had hoped - with one small hitch. Instead of just one, both guards ran to investigate Myka's sudden appearance at the end of their walkway. Quickly, Pete had to reverse direction, drop down and take a running leap at the back of one of the guards while Myka met the other head long. It then became a test of speed to see if they could bring down the guards before they could get off a warning shout.

Grabbing his man in a choke hold, Pete wrestled the guard to the ground, squeezing tighter and tighter while the man kicked and fought to escape. Not having the same strength as Pete, Myka chose to use speed over power. Dancing backward, she quickly got the guard to put himself in a place where he was vulnerable to Claudia, who took immediate advantage of the opportunity and jumped out of the shadows, laying into the back of the guy's knees as if she were lead blocker for Adrian Peterson.

With a cry of pain, the guard went down, grabbing at his leg. Before he could do more than let out a hoarse exclamation, Myka used the butt of her gun to knock him into oblivion.

When Pete was sure that his man was down for the count, he released him, and then divested him of his weapons and cuffed him to the ship's railing. Myka did the same to the other guard and then they all gathered at the hatchway the men had been guarding.

Softly, Pete said, "The scent is very strong here."

"That must be why they didn't leave their post when Mrs. Fredric's guys attacked," said Myka.

Artie shook his head. "We're far enough away from the point of entry that I doubt they even heard anything. The regents only hire the best." He smiled grimly and then produced a very familiar looking reflex hammer. "Shall we go find out what those two were guarding?"

Quickly, he struck it against the hatch's hinges. They immediately began to vibrate until they shattered, allowing the hatchway door to fall inward with a loud clunk.

With weapons drawn, Pete and Myka picked their way over the fallen door and then started heading down to the bowels of the ship. Claudia was next, easily scampering over the door, while Artie brought up the rear.

Straight down they went, until they reached another hatchway. This one was open, and at the far end, they could see another hallway that branched to the right. From that direction came a bluish light, followed by a woman's agonized screams. Before Myka could take off, both Claudia and Artie grabbed hold of her shirt and dragged her backwards, away from the sounds.

"Myka wait, no! You can't just go barreling in there. You don't know what kind of back up he has," whispered Artie harshly.

Pete sniffed the air, scratched his head and then said, "Just one, besides H. G. Male, definitely smells male."

"That has to be Valda. Okay, here's what we're going to do." Artie quickly outlined the plan.

Another penetrating scream echoed down the hall.

"We don't need a plan," whispered Myka harshly. "I'm going to stop that bastard before he kills her." She pulled away from their grip and turned to run, but was blocked by Pete.

"No, I won't let you get yourself killed. We all go, together." He grinned suddenly. "I get to sneak up on the bad guy, I get to sneak up on the bad guy!" If Pete had had a tail, it would have been furiously wagging. As it was, he danced around so eagerly that Myka was afraid he'd start barking and yelping in joy.

Helena's whole body went limp as the current from the artifact was cut off. Uncontrollable shivers rolled over her as aftershocks moved through her muscles. Teeth chattering, she rolled her eyes upward so that she could look at Valda. He loomed over the head of the table, his arms extended at his side, one hand still hovering over the box and the other splayed outward.

The man's head was thrown back, his mouth open, and his hips were moving in an unmistakable thrusting pattern that, had Helena been able to think clearly, would have disgusted her. As it was, she still had to swallow back the urge to vomit at the sight.

"That, my dear, was level four," Valda said as he slowly shook off the effects of the artifact. "Are you ready for level five, or have you decided to cooperate?"

Though she tried to fight it, Helena felt her willpower dissolving. Shrinking into herself, she sobbed, "Why? Why are you doing this? You know I'm not going to talk, so why don't you just kill me and make us both happy?"

Suddenly, Valda was there, his mouth pressed right up against her ear. "You'd like that, wouldn't you? You'd love to deprive me of my fun." Rising, he shouted, "Well that's not going to happen." He moved over to the box and twisted the dial up another notch, then glanced up and grinned menacingly. "I've been waiting far too long to let you escape justice so easily."

As he was about to depress the button, Helena cried out, "Wait! Please - just, wait." She was sobbing. The breaking point was near; she could feel it as her body tensed in preparation for another bout of pain. Hope was fading, leaving her grasping for anything - any tidbit of reprieve from the horrific agony that came on tendrils of electric light.

"Yes?" he leaned forward eagerly. "You wanted to tell me something?"

Licking her lips, Helena raggedly asked, "Why me? Just tell me, why choose me?"

Sensing victory, Valda laughed and replied, "Oh, my dear, H.G. Wells. It was always going to be you. From the very start, when we decided to gut the warehouse, you were the one who was chosen. You were the perfect patsy - after all, Arthur Nielsen would never believe, without absurdly concrete proof, that something that came from the Bronze sector was harmless. Why do you think they couldn't find any record of you being there?" Leaving the machine, he began to pace around the table, stopping every so often to admire the evidence of his handiwork.

Helena's body was a map of burns and contusions. The sight made him nearly dance with glee. Unable to stop himself, he reached out and lovingly wrapped one hand around her throat and began to squeeze. With the other, he pressed a gun to her temple and then said, "But that's not what you really need to know, my dear. Oh no, because even though you were the perfect patsy, it was one tiny detail that made me want you, and only you."

For a moment, she was falling toward an endless well of inky shadow, and in that space of timelessness, Helena gladly surrendered. Myka... The name was all she could hold on to as the world faded to a single pinpoint of light.

Suddenly, Valda released her. "Sorry to disappoint," he said as she gasped for breath and then let out a sob of anguished despair.

He made his way back to the artifact. Patting it lovingly, he said, "Where were we? Oh yes. I was telling you all about my little obsession with destroying you. You see, Miss Wells, you're something of a legend in my family. Oh, not because of those pathetically boring stories you wrote, or even because of your record as a warehouse agent. Oh no, in my family, you my dear, hold the eternally damning title of murderer."

Valda's words started the wheels of Helena's mind churning. Through the thickening sludge of pain, she pried at her memories, hoping for some clue that would allow her to understand the madman's ranting.

Then, as if laid before her on a gilded platter, the answer appeared. One of the men who had been responsible for Christina's death had been named Valdan. Emile Valdan, she now remembered. A shifty, no-good lackabout who'd sooner slit a man's throat than work for honest wages. Helena forced the details to surface, to see his face, to remember his scream as she crushed his manhood with a sledgehammer.

Opening her eyes, Helena was about to speak when something caught her attention. Standing just outside the door, pressed mostly in shadow, was Myka. Her gun was drawn, and she stood as taut as a drawn bowstring. Their eyes met and Helena was hard pressed not to call out to her. Instead, she forcibly looked away and said, "I've always thought that you carried a bit of a bad odor about you, Mr. Valda. Now I know that it's because you descend from a piece of slime so rotten that not even his whore of a wife would claim his body."

With an inarticulate scream of rage, Valda spun away from her and jammed his thumb down on the button.


Chapter 25

Cautiously, the four of them had made their way down the hall. Clinging to the walls, they'd tried to keep silent, using the flickering shadows to mask their movements. Every word that came from the room seemed to fly at them like an assault.

Myka visibly flinched when Valda's words echoed down the corridor. Pete's face just grew darker and darker until a silent mask of rage stretched his lips back into a snarl. Claudia looked ill. Oddly, it was Artie whose emotions got the better of him when he heard Valda's snidely state, "Arthur Nielsen would never believe, without absurdly concrete proof, that something that came from the Bronze sector was harmless."

Pausing, Artie had to put his hand on the wall to steady himself as a surge of overwhelming shame made his knees go unsteady. This was his fault. He was the reason that Helena was in that room, enduring an unimaginable amount of pain. His intractable nature was why the warehouse had almost lost two of its best agents.

Anger erupted within him. No one messed with his people and got away with it. Taking a firm grip on his gun, Artie pressed on, determined to make sure that no one else would suffer because of his stupid, stubborn inability to see anything outside of his own worldview.

At the entrance to the room, they stopped and squeezed together in the shadows. It was too dangerous to just burst into the room. Valda was armed and way too close to Helena for any of them to get a clean shot. Instead, they were forced to wait, watch, and listen as the madman spun his tale of revenge.

The four agents stood poised to act as Valda moved away from Helena and stopped beside an ornately carved wooden box. Several long wires emerged from the body of the device and were affixed to Helena at various points.

As Valda patted the box, he crooned, "Where were we? Oh yes. I was telling you all about my little obsession with destroying you. You see, Miss Wells, you're something of a legend in my family. Oh, not because of those pathetically boring stories you wrote, or even because of your record as a warehouse agent. Oh no, in my family, you my dear, hold the eternally damning title of murderer."

This was when Myka knew her moment to act was coming very soon.

Taking a deep breath, she was startled to find her gaze caught by Helena's. There was so much pain and loss reflected at her that, before she could stop herself, she started to move forward, but was quickly forestalled when Helena abruptly looked way, turning her attention to Valda.

Loudly, Helena proclaimed, "I've always thought that you carried a bit of a bad odor about you, Mr. Valda. Now I know that it's because you descend from a piece of slime so rotten that not even his whore of a wife would claim his body."

Valda let out an incoherent shout of rage, turned away from the doorway, and jammed his thumb down on something inside the box. Cerulean blue threads of electricity lit up the wires, making Helena jerk and spasm in the bindings, keening in utter anguish. Meanwhile, Valda stood, head thrown back and mouth open as a groan of overwhelming ecstasy was ripped from his lungs.

Two shots rang out; Valda dropped like a stone. The device crackled once and then overloaded, sending one final blast of electricity straight into Helena's body.

"No!" Myka leaped through the door, heedless of any danger, and raced to Helena's side. Tearing at the bindings, she freed Helena and pulled her convulsing body into her arms. "I'm here, shh, I'm here. It's okay. You're going to be okay," she whispered as she rocked back and forth.

Somehow, Helena found the will to speak. "Knew you'd make it," she gasped. Her body twitched violently, she let out a single, piercing cry and then, was silent.

As the woman in her arms went limp, Myka felt as if her whole world had come down to this one breath. "Helena?" she whispered, shaking her unresponsive lover gently. "Come on, don't do this. Don't do this to me. I love you, Helena. Don't you get it? I love you. You can't die." Harder and harder she shook her until she was dragged away by a pair of gentle hands. "No!" she screamed, fighting the insistent pull. "I won't leave her! She can't die!"

From somewhere deep down, Artie found the strength to counter Myka's hysterical blows and wrapped her in a hard, confining embrace. "Myka! Myka, you have to come away now. You have to let Dr. Calder in so she can work!"

Dazedly, Myka whispered, "Dr. Calder?" She turned and watched as the doctor slipped into the room and made a beeline for Helena. Quickly and efficiently she assessed Helena's condition and then began performing CPR while bellowing orders.

Uniformed men and women came then, and over Myka's protests, pulled them out of the room, leaving only the doctor and four others to work on reviving Helena.

Myka refused to go any further than the hatch. Once across the threshold, she pressed up against the wall and stared in, watching as Dr. Calder and her team fought to save Helena's life. Every heartbeat that thundered inside her chest was one more nail in the wall of silence that Myka felt closing around her. Please, she prayed silently, come back to me.

"Clear!" yelled Dr. Calder. The team all moved back as the doctor pressed the defibrillator paddles against Helena's body.

Helena jerked and twitched and then, as her body thumped against the table, gasped and took a breath. It was the most beautiful sound Myka had ever heard.

Over the next three weeks, the agents' time was spent in several lengthy debriefings. Regents would appear at Leena's at odd hours to question Artie, Pete, or Myka at length. What they were seeking, none of the agents could quite understand, since the queries ran from the obscure to the grossly private - in one case, earning a particularly offensive regent a slap on the face from Myka. After that, no one seemed inclined to examine the status of her relationship with H.G. Wells.

Helena underwent several procedures to repair the damage she'd suffered both in the accident and afterward, which meant that most of the time, she was either sleeping or in therapy. Throughout, Myka stayed by Helena's side, only leaving when she was forced to appear before a regent.

At Ellsworth Military Hospital, Helena was quite the celebrity. Not because they knew who she was, but because she was their only patient who had her own personal secret service agent, and that agent was, according to several orderlies, "smokin' hot". Helena enjoyed her infamy, taking advantage of it for her lover's benefit. Myka had use of a cot, and the kitchen staff always brought enough food for two at mealtime.

The only time Myka did not stay by Helena's side was when she was ordered to leave – by a doctor, by Helena herself, or by a superior, such as when the regents would call for her to be debriefed. At those times, Pete would step in and take up her self-appointed duty to ensure Helena's safety.

This only served to further lift Helena's celebrity status, as now several more folks were impressed and charmed by the affable agent.

Today, Myka was off at debriefings once again, so Pete had come along to sit with Helena. They talked of little things, with Pete sharing several entertaining anecdotes about his and Myka's first year with the warehouse.

Helena had already heard most of the stories, but there were enough bits and pieces that were especially entertaining or interesting that she was able to take enjoyment from the discussion. Sadly, the pain in her head only seemed to grow worse whenever Myka was not around, and she often ended up falling asleep in the middle of Pete's tales. Not today, though; today, she had a mission for Myka's partner.

"Pete, I need you to do something for me, but you will have to keep it to yourself. It is of the utmost importance, and I swear, it is nothing more than a personal favor. Can you do that?"

Shrugging, Pete smiled and said, "Sure."

Helena slowly outlined her request, and by the time she was finished, Pete was almost hooting with glee. "Oh, I so have to tell Claudia about this!"

"You will not! This is to be between us, do you understand, Agent Lattimer?" The glare Helena gave him would have melted steel.

Pete swallowed as he remembered that this was the woman who had invented a time machine. "Um, yes?" he said weakly. "Sorry, I just got a little carried away." He rubbed his hands together and cackled softly. "You gotta admit, it's pretty awesome."

Helena smiled tenderly. "I do hope that it will bring a positive result, yes."

Near the end of her stay in the military hospital, Helena had a visitor that she'd been both expecting and dreading. Mrs. Fredric, followed by the regent, Taka, appeared one afternoon, right after Helena had suffered yet another debilitating headache.

"Good afternoon, Agent Wells," said Mrs. Fredric softly. Taka remained silent, staring at Helena with a slight air of distaste.

Helena grimaced and said, "Why hello to you, too. I do believe you are here to affect some form of repair to my rather addled brain, are you not?"

Solemnly, Mrs. Fredric nodded. "We are. Unfortunately, unless Agent Bering still has the Pearl of Wisdom, I cannot guarantee its effectiveness."

"Oh my God!" Myka jumped from her chair as if she'd been jabbed in the butt. "Of course, of course, I have it. It's in my pocket! I never gave it to you. I'm so sorry. I guess in all the excitement, I just forgot it was there," Myka continued to ramble and apologize as she dug around in her coat pocket until she retrieved a fabric-wrapped wad. Opening it, she revealed the Pearl. It gleamed softly in the dim hospital lighting.

Helena stared at it and then said, "Such an innocent looking thing, isn't it? Considering all the terrible things it has done, I mean."

Going to her side, Myka took Helena's hand and entwined their fingers. "It's not your fault, honey," she whispered softly, earning her a tired smile from Helena.

"That may be, darling, but I still feel the guilt of my actions, no matter how little control I may or may not have had over them."

After cleaning the artifact, Mrs. Fredric turned to Myka and said, "Thank you, Agent Bering, for keeping such good custody of the Pearl. Though you were remiss in not returning it to the warehouse promptly, I believe, in this instance, that your memory lapse has served a better purpose. Likely, its proximity to Agent Wells has kept her from suffering further ill effects."

Astonished, Myka said, "You mean even though that thing is responsible for hurting Helena in the first place, having it around kept it from hurting her worse?" She shook her head disbelievingly. "You know, I don't think I even want to know what kind of sick and twisted mind could create an artifact like that."

"In any event, now that you have returned the Pearl to my custody, Agent Bering, I am afraid that I will have to request that you leave," said Mrs. Fredric, though her tone was gentle, her words held the weight of command.

Myka frowned, and started to protest, but Helena shook her head. Pulling her hand from Myka's, she said, "No, darling, Mrs. Fredric is correct. You should go. Take a break. Visit with Pete – he misses you."

Unable to deny Helena's request, Myka smiled sadly, bent and kissed her lover quickly. Quietly, she said, "I'll be back as soon as I can," and then left to go find Pete.

Mrs. Fredric then turned to Helena. "That was very brave of you, Agent Wells."

Helena's eyes closed briefly and then she said, "She does not need to witness this. Please, do make it quick. I'd rather my screams not bother the other patients on this ward."

"Oh, do not concern yourself with that, Agent Wells," said Taka as she approached the recumbent patient. "We are quite alone." Helena shivered at the cool, calculating nature of the regent's tone. She was not afraid, though. Taka had to have been personally chosen by Mrs. Fredric, or she would not be here.

"Well, go on then. Plumb the depths of my brain at your leisure." Putting on a brave face, Helena turned her head slightly, gasping when the cool, oily slide of the Pearl into her ear elicited little more sensation than that of a cotton swab.

Waiting only a few moments, Taka began to speak in a low, soft voice, guiding Helena through a series of meditative exercises that eventually left her in a completely vulnerable state. Then, Mrs. Fredric stepped in and began the most intensive questioning session Helena had ever undergone. Nothing was sacred; all the secrets of her soul were uncovered, sorted and laid bare.

There was pain; some of it physical as the artifact bounced around and irritated old wounds, some of it mental as the caretaker brought out memories of Helena's daughter. All of it was necessary, for though Mrs. Fredric believed in Helena's innocence, there were those on the regent's council who doubted. By the time she was through, no one would doubt Helena's loyalty to the warehouse.

Once the interrogation was finished, Mrs. Fredric took it upon herself to guide the Pearl out, soothing all the damaged tissue and using its powers to heal instead of hurt. When Myka returned to Helena's side later that afternoon, Helena was sleeping peacefully, and for the first time in a long time, did not suffer any debilitating headaches.

Dr. Calder came by a short time later and let Myka know that she'd be able to take Helena home soon.

Valda's ship was a treasure-trove of evidence. Several journals containing detailed information regarding his collusion with James MacPherson were found in his personal quarters. In them, they learned that Valda and MacPherson had concocted an elaborate scheme involving the warehouse, H.G., and eventually, a massive plot to discredit Artie, Pete, and Myka. The revelation caused quite the uproar among the regents, and eventually, word came back to the warehouse agents that Adwin Kosan, the regent who had been Valda's sponsor to the council, was asked to step down and take a permanent leave of absence.

He did so, vanishing so suddenly that Claudia grew suspicious and, as a part of her evidence gathering, added Kosan's name to her growing list of "be on the look out for" that were coded into her search spiders. Three days later, she had only come up with mostly dead ends, but there was one very curious fact – Adwin Kosan secretly owned a sixty percent share in Benedict Valda's shipping business.

No other connections outside what was expected of two men who had been colleagues could be found, but that little detail was enough for Artie to instruct Claudia to disable all of Kosan's warehouse pass codes.

The day that Dr. Calder gave Helena a clean bill of health, Mrs. Fredric arrived at the bed and breakfast with an announcement.

They'd all gathered in the dining room to celebrate Helena's return – even Artie was there, grudgingly donning a bright pink party hat and displaying what was, for him, a considerable amount of cheer.

As the honoree, Helena sat at the head of the table, with Myka to her right and Claudia to her left while Pete and Leena laid out a banquet of edible goodies, including shortbread, tea, crumpets, and a plate of watercress sandwiches.

Glancing at the decidedly boring offerings, Helena put on a brave smile and reached for her tea, only to have Claudia laugh and swap it out for a white paper bag that was spotted with grease and smelled heavily of onion.

Licking her lips, Helena said, "Oh, is this what I hope it is."

Claudia grinned. "Let's just say a little bird told me what your favorite fast food is."

Having been on a diet of bland, boring, "good for her" foods for three weeks, the sight of a greasy, onion and ketchup covered cheeseburger was almost enough to bring tears to Helena's eyes. Instead, she quickly took a bite, groaning in delightful pleasure at the taste.

Pete watched, mesmerized as Helena took a second bite and smeared ketchup on the corner of her mouth. "Um, you've got, some, uh -" He pantomimed wiping her face and started to pass a napkin to her but was stopped when Myka casually leaned over and removed the offending sauce with a casual sweep of her tongue that ended with she and Helena sharing a lengthy kiss.

Suddenly very interested in the arrival of Mrs. Fredric, Pete forced himself to turn away from watching his partner kiss another woman and smiled weakly. "Hey, Mrs. F, what's up?" he squeaked and coughed, and added, "Would you like some tea?"

Seemingly unaware of the open display of affection being shared by two of her agents, Mrs. Fredric shook her head and said, "No, thank you. I cannot stay long. I've come to inform you that, as of now, you are all on vacation. For the foreseeable future, the warehouse is officially closed. The regents have decided that it is time for a full investigation and are sending in a hand-picked team of auditors who will determine if any other artifacts are missing."

This casually stated comment earned several expressions of shock from the agents. Even Helena and Myka broke apart to stare at the caretaker, aghast. "But what about those artifacts that are still out there, uncollected?" said Myka with concern.

"Yeah, who's gonna make sure some poor schlub doesn't shoot off his own foot with Buck Roger's ray gun or something," added Claudia.

"I'm sure that the world will survive without Warehouse 13 for a few weeks. If something truly dangerous surfaces, then I am certain that you will all be willing to return to work. Until such time, there really is only one other matter." Mrs. Fredric now turned to face Artie.

He smiled weakly and blew on a party favor. "Rah-rah?" he said, even as he inwardly cringed. The look on his superior's face was all too familiar. Over the last three weeks he'd gotten plenty of lectures about letting his natural paranoia get in the way of his investigative skills.

"Arthur, you are, I hope, well aware of my feelings as to how you handled yourself over the last case, and indeed, how you've behaved with regard to Agent Wells since she became an active agent. What I now need to know is whether or not you are capable of letting go of your preconceptions when it comes to Agent Wells."

Carefully, Artie set aside the noisemaker and then folded his hands on the table. "I have been an agent for a long time. There are things I've seen, things I've done that make me proud; there are others that leave me filled with guilt and shame. All of these experiences have taught me one very important thing - you've got to be able to trust the people you work with, otherwise, well, otherwise you're just asking for trouble. After James' betrayal, I thought that my trust had to be earned, not given, and because of that, I acted rashly. I expected treachery, so I saw evidence of it everywhere. That's my fault, and it led to people getting hurt - even killed - because of it." He turned now and looked directly at Helena. "Without knowing anything about you, about why you were in the Bronze sector, I assumed you were just like every other artifact - something to be cataloged, shelved, and forgotten."

Frowning, Myka said, "But she's not an artifact, Artie, she's a human being! I thought we'd already dealt with this!"

Artie hung his head. "I know, I know. We have. But I'm old, and set in my ways, and it sometimes takes me awhile to really understand and accept change. And well, you must admit that H.G. - Helena - is a big one. It's not an excuse, I know. I'm the one that you look to, to lead you, to guide you, and to give you the information you need to do your jobs, and I haven't done that very well. Instead, I let my prejudices blind me to anything other than what was the obvious. For that, I am -" He paused, steepled his fingers to his lips and then shook his head slowly. "I'm very sorry."

Coming to stand at his side, Claudia put her hand on his shoulder and said, "Hey, we all thought she was guilty. We were supposed to think she was guilty, right?" She looked around the room, as if seeking support for her statement, and received grudging nods in response.

Reaching up, Artie covered her hand with his, giving it a couple of pats in the process. "You're right, but still, I hold myself to a higher standard. I should have thought to look deeper - to see that Helena wasn't acting rationally. Maybe if I'd listened to Myka early on, maybe if I'd taken the chance to talk to Helena after she was made an agent, I'd have known about the map she gave the council, or maybe I would have been able to see whatever it was that Myka saw. I don't know. I will never know." He looked utterly miserable. "I guess what I'm trying to say is that I know I should be able to trust you, Helena; I just don't know how."

While he spoke, Helena had put aside her lunch and focused her attention on his words. Now, she stood and walked over to where Artie sat. Looking down at him, Helena assumed a casual stance, allowing a superior smirk to cross her face before saying, "What a fine speech. Did you write it yourself, or did you have to borrow a few words from the dictionary to get it right?"



Pete and Myka were both equally shocked, but Claudia only looked at her, both eyebrows raised and then frowned.

Very softly, so softly that only Mrs. Fredric overheard, Claudia whispered, "Artie's about to get his ass handed to him by H.G. This should be fun. Not."

Myka went to go to Helena's side, but Helena held up a hand and said, "No, Myka. I'm not crazy, nor am I still under the influence of the Pearl." She did pause then and look at Mrs. Fredric. "Never do that to me again, by the way." She was referring to the visit the caretaker and Taka had made to her while she was still recovering from having shoulder surgery.

Mrs. Fredric only gave her a bland look. "It was necessary."

"It was horrific." Helena closed her eyes and tried to push the memory of that afternoon from her mind. It was difficult. The hours had dragged on, becoming an ordeal that had left her physically and mentally drained for days.

"Had I not intervened, the resonances of the Pearl's influence would have burrowed deep into your brain and, eventually, killed you."

"I know. I do understand why you acted; I do not, however, have to like it." Returning her attention to Artie, Helena said, "You, on the other hand - you have behaved in the most ungentlemanly fashion. From the moment we met, I knew you were one of the most petty-minded individuals I'd ever had the displeasure to know. My opinion of you has not changed. You say that you do not know how to trust me - I could say the same to you, after all I'm the one who saved your life."

The tension in the room was knife-edged. Pete began to worry that if he so much as sneezed wrong, he'd be sliced to ribbons by it.

Softly, he said, "You know, maybe we should all just -" His words trailed off as Helena turned and glared at him. "Or not," he murmured.

"When MacPherson debronzed me, I was confused; my file should have had a specific date I was to be released, and I can assure you that I did not choose the year 2010 as the date upon which I wished to return to this world. However, he soothed my fears with false promises and a certain roguish charm that I should have recognized as pure deception. Once I learned of his true desires, I took steps to ensure his schemes would come to naught. I did not realize he had a partner. I did not see the danger; I only wished to regain my place, to carve out a life as best I could. Instead, I was met with the wall of your mistrust." All the attitude drained from her then as she whispered, "I had no home; nothing. No one wanted or needed me anymore. Indeed, I considered requesting a return to the Bronze sector. At least there, all that I would have to deal with was my memories. Yet I stayed; I persisted, because I knew I had something to give to the warehouse. I had something to prove; to you, perhaps, but mostly to myself. I am a good agent. I have value. I am a human being worthy and capable of greatness." Ignoring Artie, Helena turned and reached for Myka's hands. Enclosing them in her own, "I am able to love and be loved," she finished with a whisper.

"And I almost took that from you, because of my inability to see beyond the serial number next to your name," Artie said softly. He stood, removed his party hat, and said, "I think you have all earned a vacation - but perhaps I'm the one who needs it the most. I've let the warehouse become too much a part of me. I've become less of a person. The job, the hunt, the collection and storage of artifacts has blinded me. I've lost sight of what's important – the people." He covered his mouth, closed his eyes, and then, with a sigh, he said, "I'm sorry. I can't offer anything more than that. Nothing else matters." He turned and started to walk toward the door.

Watching him go, Claudia was immediately struck by the familiarity of Artie's posture. Only once before had she seen him so defeated. "Wait!" Claudia cried. "Wait, you can't just leave. We can't let him go!" She turned and glanced pleadingly at Myka and Helena, then at Pete and Mrs. Fredric. "Don't you get it? He's leaving. He's not coming back. Right? You're just going to run away, aren't you Artie?" She ran over and stood between him and the door. "Just like you did after Joshua vanished."

With a wink, Helena released Myka's hands, turned, and calmly said, "Coward."

Artie froze and his hands balled up into fists. "Excuse me?" he said, but did not abandon his position near the door.

"You heard me. Coward. You'd rather run away than stay here and work this out. It's easier, isn't it? Running. Always running; I've had a bellyful of running, Artie. I ran away from my life for more years than you've been alive and look where it got me. Try something new - try something courageous." She grinned self-deprecatingly. "Try something I failed at - try to learn from your mistakes. If you can do it, then so will I." When he did not respond immediately, she raised one eyebrow challengingly and added, "I dare you to."

Her expression was warm and welcoming; once Artie had found only something to fear and mistrust in Helena's dark eyes, but now there existed an open door that invited him to put aside his burdens and step through. Fleetingly, he glanced to the side and was surprised to see hopeful looks shining back at him on the faces of his agents. Even Mrs. Fredric seemed moved by the moment - her hands were clasped tightly around the back of a chair and she leaned forward expectantly.

"Well, I -" He paused, removed his glasses, cleaned them, replaced them, and then cleared his throat softly. Backing away from a challenge like that was going to be tough. "I guess I can try. I mean, don't expect miracles, because you know, old dog - new tricks, but -" The rest of what he said was cut off by Claudia's and Pete's cheer. Artie accepted Helena's hand and was only mildly surprised when she gave it a light squeeze before she drew him into a gentle hug.

"You and I have a long path to trod, but we will do it for them," she whispered softly. Louder, she said, "I forgive you."

As softly, he replied, "I don't deserve it, but thank you. Anytime you want to talk, I'm here. I can't always promise to be the good guy, but I will be honest."

"That is a rare commodity; I will keep that in mind," said Helena as they separated. She returned to Myka's side while Artie settled into his chair once more.

Mrs. Fredric nodded as if this was exactly what she'd expected to occur. "Very good. Enjoy your vacation; when the regents are finished with the warehouse, there will be plenty of work to be done." With a firm nod, she turned and left the others to continue their 'party'.

More food appeared; Claudia turned on the stereo and began to dance while the others snacked on popcorn and cupcakes. Leena finally said, "So, now that I finally have you all here, can someone please tell me what the heck happened?"

Everyone sort of paused in their chewing and gaped at her.

Bits of popcorn dribbled from the end of Myka's chin while Pete had to swallow a rather large bite of cupcake or risk choking. Helena chewed thoughtfully, swallowed and then wiped her lips.

"Well," she began, frowned slightly and said, "Perhaps this is better told by someone whose memory isn't made of Somerset cheddar."

Artie snorted. "Swiss cheese, Helena. It's Swiss cheese. Or didn't you have that back in the bad old days?"

Helena grinned while Myka continued to choke on popcorn. "Oh, we did, and I do know the idiom, but I cannot abide the taste of Swiss cheese. It rather reminds me of how men's dirty knickers smell."

This, of course, prompted gales of laughter from Claudia and forced Pete to hastily set aside his cupcake.

Leena just looked at them like they'd all lost their minds.

Artie sighed. "All right, I guess I'll be the one to start. H.G. was the bad guy -"

By turns, they all added to the collective pool of knowledge, each throwing in one or two tidbits that eventually painted a full picture of what had transpired three weeks earlier.

At one point, Pete actually stood up and clapped his hands to his face. "Oh my God. That skunk! That smarmy little bastard! If he wasn't dead, I'd kick his ass from Cairo to the warehouse!"

"What is it, Pete?" Myka said, her face a mask of concern.

"Valda! At the dig site, when we went into the tent, he grabbed this map and shoved it into his pocket. I didn't think anything of it at the time, but -" He was truly peeved by the memory. "Damn the man! I knew he was a skunk!"

Myka jumped in and said, "That had to be the map that Helena turned over to the regents, right?"

"To be concise, I gave it to Adwin Kosan, Benedict Valda, and three other regents. They were very appreciative. In particular, I recall Valda looking somewhat surprised. At the time, I thought nothing of it, but hindsight has made the moment rather singular." Helena took a sip of her tea, made a face and then said, "Oh that is simply dreadful. What kind of tea is this, anyway?"

Claudia grimaced. "It's green tea. Sorry, it was all that was left in the cupboard."

Leena thought that over and then, with some trepidation evident in her tone, asked, "What was done with the Pearl?"

"Nothing, yet." From a pocket, Artie withdrew one of the foil bags used to contain an artifact's powers. "Mrs. Fredric and I agree that since you and Helena were so terribly harmed by it, that you two should decide its fate." He donned a pair of purple gloves, opened the bag and let it roll out onto his palm.

It sat there, gleaming softly, looking like a harmless bead. At one time, they might even have seen it as beautiful, for it was certainly alluring. There was an urge to reach out for it, to take it up and let it slide over their flesh.

Nauseated, Helena looked away and muttered, "I don't care what becomes of it, so long as I never again have to look upon it."

Leena could not suppress a shiver. "Take it away! Please. It - calls - in a whisper I can still hear."

Myka looked from her friend to her lover, noticing that the longer the Pearl's presence remained out in the open, the more they seemed affected by it. Glancing at Pete, she shared a silent conversation with him that ended with Pete nodding once and then getting up from the table.

Standing as well, Myka said, "Give it to us." She held out her hand to Artie.

He looked from Helena to Leena and back, and satisfied that neither was going to interfere, he slid the Pearl back into its bag. "I suggest you take it some distance from the house. There's likely to be a minor shock-wave and I'm not footing the bill for new windows."

Myka took the bag and said, "Got it." Turning to Pete, she said, "Don't forget the sledgehammer."

As a group, they trudged out to the back of inn. When they were a fair distance from the building, Pete cleared a patch of ground with his foot. "Okay, you want first whack, or should I go for the Wile E. Coyote award?"

Myka set the bag on the ground, and then quietly said, "Give me the hammer and get back."

Wordlessly, Pete handed over the tool.

As she was taking aim, Helena called out, "Myka, you don't have to do this. It can be sealed in the Dark Vault."

Almost simultaneously, Leena echoed her with, "Please, just let it alone!"

Grimly, Artie said, "Ignore them; it's the last vestiges of the Pearl trying to beg for its existence. Go ahead, Myka. One good strike should do it."

Closing her eyes, Myka gripped the sledgehammer in both hands, raised it above her head and brought it down with a soft oomph of exertion.

She was almost immediately knocked back by a purplish cloud of dust that was followed by a concussive blast. Falling backwards, she barely had time to scramble away before a crackle of electricity consumed the bag and a two foot circle of dirt around it and then erupted, sending clods of molten debris in all directions.

Clutching their heads and moaning in pain, Leena and Helena slumped to the ground near the back door while Claudia and Pete ran to get fire extinguishers. Artie grabbed hold of Myka and dragged her out of the way of the rather merrily burning fire and waited until the others returned and started dousing the blaze.

Ears ringing, Myka staggered over to Helena and drew her into her arms. "Are you okay?" she shouted. Helena winced while Leena made shushing motions.

"Head hurts," Helena murmured and then collapsed against Myka. On the other side of her, Leena fell into Helena's lap, forcing Myka to bear the burden of both women's weight until Artie arrived to coax Leena to semi-consciousness.

Carefully, Artie got Leena to stand and then escorted her inside while Myka sat, calmly cradling Helena against her. With some amusement, she watched as Pete and Claudia chased sparks around the back yard, dousing anything that looked like it might burn for more than a few seconds.

"Hey, look at that - it's a warehouse family barbecue, no charcoal necessary." Myka pressed a kiss to Helena's forehead and then nuzzled the top of her head with her cheek. "Now all we need is a dog, a Frisbee, and some water balloons."

"Is this one of those awful jokes that ends with the vicar getting goosed by the miller?" mumbled Helena softly as she slowly drew herself to a seated position next to Myka.

"What? No, I was just, you know, thinking how nice it would be to have a real family style gathering someday," said Myka wistfully.

Helena's expression grew thoughtful and she said, "This place does have an appeal, doesn't it?" Myka just smiled and leaned her head against Helena's

Later, long after everyone else had gone to sleep, Myka and Helena lay together, curled in a heap on Myka's bed. They'd not yet undressed; this was to be their first night together since Helena had been released from Dr. Calder's care. Instead, they had spent their time reading to each other from their favorite books. After a while though, Helena had voluntarily forfeited her turn, preferring to listen to Myka as she put voice to words that Helena remembered dictating to her brother so many years ago. Lying with her head pillowed on Myka's chest, she almost didn't realize it when Myka set aside the novel and started lightly scratching her back.

"Hey there sleepyhead. You ready to turn out the light and get some sleep?"

With an effort, Helena rolled over and stared up at the ceiling. "I don't know. I'm not really that tired. I guess I've just been thinking."

"About?" Myka said as she turned onto her side and looked down at her lover.

Helena smiled. "You. Me. Us. Everything." Slowly, she turned and snuggled close to Myka. "You do realize that things aren't going to change as quickly as you'd like, right? That Artie and I will likely continue to bicker and disagree? Trust will not grow easily between us."

Kissing Helena gently, Myka said, "I know. But you've made a good start, and for that, I'm grateful."

Helena sighed as she parted from Myka. "I can't help but wish that Christina could be here; that she could know you, how wonderful you are, to see how happy you've made me." Her eyes grew glassy and she looked away. "Oh, I'm such a wreck tonight, Myka. I'm sorry. We should be celebrating my triumphant return to health, not rambling on and on over things long lost."

Gently, Myka cupped Helena's chin and encouraged her to look up. "I don't mind. You need this, Helena. You need to grieve. For so long you've let sorrow tear you up and twist you around – it's time to let it out, to let it be what it is." She stroked Helena's lips lightly with her thumb. "You don't have to be so stoic; I'm here now."

"Oh, my love, your presence alone keeps all my demons away," Helena said softly as she leaned into Myka's touch. "You are the miracle that God granted me at the end of my journey, and for that, I cannot give enough thanks."

"Helena, sometimes when you talk, I don't know whether I want you to shut up so I can kiss you senseless, or let you keep talking until I swoon."

"There's always option C - both," Helena said as she tipped her head just enough to capture Myka's thumb and bite down on the pad gently.

Making an inarticulate sound of need, Myka closed her eyes as chills raced up her arm. Helena continued to suck and nip at Myka's thumb, painting a wet trail across her palm and the inside of her wrist.

Slowly Helena followed the line of Myka's arm, tracing the shape and curve of muscle and tendon with her mouth.

Myka felt as though she were standing on thin glass. So much time had passed since she and Helena had last made love. Helena's injuries had been so severe that they'd only been able to steal quick kisses in between treatment and therapy. Even artifacts, apparently, had their limits when it came to healing a body as traumatized as Helena's had been. Now, Myka was almost afraid to unleash the ragged control she had over her desire for her lover.

Groaning, she said, "Helena, I want you, so much - oh God, so very much - but -"

"Shh," Helena whispered, laying a single finger on Myka's mouth. "I'm fine, darling. I want this; I need to know that you are mine, forever."

"Forever?" Myka gasped as her shirt and bra were deftly removed.

Helena's hands were hot as she stroked them over Myka's body. "Forever," she whispered, unbuttoning Myka's pants. "I offer you all my tomorrows, Myka Bering, if you want them." Her fingers dragged along the edge of Myka's panties.

Myka sucked in a huge breath and replied, "Just tomorrows? How about today?"

Leaning down, Helena gave Myka several lingering kisses and then said, "Today and every day, Myka. I am yours if you'll have me."

Entranced, Myka ran her fingers through Helena's hair, across her shoulders and down her back. As she slipped her hands under Helena's shirt, she whispered, "I hope you're asking what I think you're asking, because I'm only going to say yes once."

They kissed again. Helena smiled. It was a slow, sultry grin. "In that case," she said as she slid her hand past the barrier of Myka's pants. "Open my collar."

Barely able to form cognizant thought, Myka gasped and said, "Wh-what?"

Helena's grin widened. "My hands are a bit engaged at the moment, Myka. Be a dear and unbutton my shirt."

With fumbling fingers, Myka fought the buttons one by one until Helena's blouse hung open just enough to reveal the locket she always wore. Nestled atop the pendant was something new, however. It was a ring. Seeming very plain in design, the more Myka stared at it, the more she realized that it was set with hundreds of tiny sapphires. Crowning the center was a large, square cut diamond.

"H-holy - oh God," she whispered and then bit her lip as Helena's touch grew very demanding.

"It's yours, you know. I wanted to capture a star for you, but all I could find were these silly stones. Still, Pete did assure me that it was a proper gift for the woman I intend to marry."

"It's - um -" She sucked in a breath and then, as Helena's strokes began to slow, she growled, "Don't even think about stopping."

"Oh no, never," Helena said reassuringly, allowing her touch to deepen. "I intend for you to tell this story to our grandchildren some day."

"Helena, I am not telling our grandchildren about our sex life," Myka said and then, as the import of the words broke through the haze of desire coloring her thoughts, she whispered, "Oh."

Helena's touch again changed, now becoming slow, loving, almost a caress, though not teasing in any way. "Yes, Myka. Our grandchildren. You let me imagine such things. Such incredible possibilities. Our life; our family. This one we have now, and the one we will make in the future. You've given me that, Myka."

"You don't want much, do you?" Myka said as she wound her fingers in Helena's lapels. "Marry you, have your babies - the next thing I know, you're going to want me to cook your dinner and wash your laundry."

Helena chuckled. "Nonsense; you cook about as well as I do, and I'd really rather not die of food poisoning. As for the laundry, I'm not above a bit of menial labor - especially since I know you enjoy watching me work." She licked her lips and pushed into Myka. "You do enjoy watching me work, don't you?" she asked in a low tone.

Dragging Helena down for a kiss, Myka said, "If I say yes to all of this, will you shut up and make love to me?"

"With pleasure," said Helena as she sealed their future with a kiss.


Chapter 26

Morning found the warehouse crew scrounging for breakfast. Pete was sitting at the table, staring at a banana with a mournful expression on his face while Leena and Claudia traded jibes over bowls of granola. Into this scene came sleepy-eyed, tousled-haired Myka. She was dressed in a pair of plaid sleep pants and a thin tank top and had a distracted smile on her face as she reached for an empty cereal bowl.

"For someone who didn't get much sleep last night, you're awfully chipper," said Claudia grouchily.

Pausing in the midst of pouring milk over her cereal, Myka winced and felt the tips of her ears heat. "Please tell me you're not implying that the walls are thin, because I know for a fact that they aren't. If they were, Pete would have been at the door, begging to bring in a video camera."

No one seemed to notice that Pete didn't even react to his name being mentioned.

Claudia turned to Leena, stuck out her tongue and said, "You so owe me five bucks."

Leena chuckled and replied, "I guess I do. But you owe me ten for her Pete comment."

Rolling her eyes, Claudia retorted, "Yeah, yeah, you got me there. I never pegged Myka as the type to make such an obvious lesbian joke."

Suddenly struck by the thought that she and Helena were going to have to start getting used to being labeled with all kinds of names, Myka didn't see Claudia's eyes grow to the size of the saucer that held Leena's teacup. Suddenly, her hand was grabbed and then she was dragged into a patch of sunlight.

"Well, well, what have we here? This, Myka-my-friend, looks suspiciously like some serious shit, and so now, in the time-honored code of bestest best friends everywhere, you will now spill, and spill all, quickly! Details, woman, we want details!" Claudia was three shrill notes from a full on squee-fest.

Not yet entirely ready to share the good news, Myka made a show of looking around the room. "Hey, we seem to be down two people. I thought Helena would be down here, but she's not here. And where's Artie?"

Leena smiled and said, "Helena was here when I first woke up, but she said she had something to do. I believe her comment was, 'The early bird gets the worm'. Perhaps she went fishing?"

Somewhat distracted from her mission, Claudia added, "As for Artie, just listen and pretty soon, you'll know where he is."

Frowning, Myka cocked her head and did as instructed, even while pondering Helena's odd choice of idiom. As far as she knew, Helena wasn't at all interested in outdoorsy things like fishing. Passing it off as nonsense, Myka soon realized that the horribly loud growling sound coming from the direction of Artie's bedroom was, in fact, the snoring of their ersatz leader.

"Oh my God, should we make sure he hasn't been turned into a bear or something?" Myka used the distraction of her question to pull her hand from Claudia's grasp and quickly turned to finish making her breakfast. With the bowl cradled in her left hand, she hurriedly spooned up a mouthful and watched as Claudia had a visible mental debate with herself. It was very amusing to watch the cascade of emotions that fluttered across the hacker's face; confusion, consideration, fear, and finally, realization dawned.

Turning, Claudia wagged a finger at Myka. "Oh no you don't. You are so not going to distract me, young lady."

Pete's sudden, mournful sigh caused all three women to finally notice him .

Setting aside her cereal, Myka went to the table, pulled out a chair and sat beside her partner.

"Pete, are you okay?"

He sighed again. "Oh sure. I'm great. Just peachy. It's just, there's this banana, and I found it, and Kelly, and if I don't shut up, I'm going to have to turn in my man card and bawl like a baby on your shoulder." Fixing a smile on his face, he resolutely picked up the fruit, tore it open and began to eat. "So," he said while chewing loudly. "You gonna pony up the intel about that bit of bling, or are we all going to have to gang up on H.G. and demand to know what her intentions are?"

"Pete, I - you, we - argh!" Myka covered her face and sighed. "It's complicated, and I don't know if I'm ready to say more than that."

Pete took a drink of milk, swallowed, and then reached out to take his partner's hand. Turning it over so that the diamond flashed in the sunlight, he said, "Hey, you know, when H.G. sent me after this thing, I was pretty sure you were gonna freak. So, go ahead, freak. Do it now, though, because that woman loves you like nothing I've ever seen, and that's something you just can't let go."

With watery eyes, Myka squeezed Pete's hand and said, "Thank you. It's just that it finally hit me that things are kinda different now." She glanced at Claudia and Leena who were both creeping around like church mice, and obviously listening in on the conversation. "I don't know how I made that joke earlier, you know. Now that there's this big L word involved, I suddenly wonder if now I need to be the warehouse poster child for the Pride movement and that, well, that kind of scares the heck out of me."

Claudia rushed over and swept Myka up in a hug. "Oh don't worry about that stuff. Heck, as far as I know, you'd be a parade of two anyway, though hey, we could all join PFLAG and do NOH8 posters! I already have a button. Which would be cool, but not necessary as long as you're happy and stuff, right? You're happy, aren't you? I mean, you seem happy and why am I not shutting up and letting you talk?"

Myka laughed and tugged Claudia into her lap, giving her a massive bear hug as she did. "Don't ever change," she said into the hacker's hair. "You are such a wonderful you, and I need that so I can remember to be me."

"Okay," replied Claudia brightly. "I can do that."

Just when it seemed likely that they would all fall prey to the heavy emotional aura overlaying the room, they were all startled by the arrival of a massive black and silver motor home. Whoever was driving it obviously had very little skill at it, as the vehicle swerved from side to side like a drunk trying to find his way home on Lombard Street. Bushes, flower plots, and several mail boxes fell victim to the behemoth before it came skidding to a stop just inches from the back end of Artie's prized red convertible.

They all raced to the doorway of the bed and breakfast, getting there in time to watch Helena emerge from the motor home. Tossing her hair back over her shoulder, she said, "Well, that was quite invigorating. I think I'll need a bit more practice, but it's not that much different from conducting a steam engine, really."

"Helena?" Myka pushed through the knot of agents and went to her lover. "What is this?"

Helena grinned and tangled her fingers with Myka's. "This? Oh, this is just a little something I thought we might like to have along with us when we go on our vacation. After all, you did mention returning to that quaint little campground in my namesake village, did you not?"

Staring at the massive vehicle, Myka gaped and tried several times to speak and finally, weakly said, "Yes, but this wasn't quite what I had in mind."

"Oh, were you thinking of something larger? I'm sure the dealer would be happy to trade it in. Though I was assured that this particular model came equipped with the most modern of amenities. I must say, I was quite impressed with the loo. It actually flushes!" Helena seemed far too cheerful about the prospect of a flushable bathroom on board the motor home.

With wonder in her eyes, Claudia joined them. Trailing her fingers over the silvery swirls of paint along the side of the motor home, she whistled softly and said, "This is so cool. I mean, really, H.G. this is beyond the beyond. Can I go inside? It's gotta be totally awesome in there."

From the doorway of the inn, Pete and Leena watched while Helena gave Claudia an elaborate bow, opened the door, and headed inside the vehicle. Pete sighed. "You know, there was once a time that I'd have given a considerable amount to ride around in a thing like that. Now, all I can think about is how boring it would be without Kelly."

Leena gave him a half smile, put her hand on his shoulder and said, "It gets better. Trust me." Letting her touch linger just a bit, she turned and headed back inside while Pete shook his head.

"That's the thing. I don't want it to get better," he mumbled softly as he went to join his friends in the motor home.

Every other word out of Claudia's mouth was, "Whoa!" or "Oh my God, this is so cool!"

Myka just sort of drifted through the interior, one hand unconsciously outstretched to lightly brush over the various surfaces and the other firmly clasped in Helena's hand. Together, they explored the vehicle from front to back and by the time they hit the master bedroom, Myka was in a complete daze.

Collapsing on the bed, she said, "So, you rented this so we could go camping?"

Helena sat next to her and scooted in close, then let her chin rest on Myka's shoulder. "Bought it, actually. The salesman was quite insistent that it was the, 'best deal of the century', and who am I to turn down an offer like that?" Stroking her finger over the ring encircling Myka's finger, she said, "We can park it anywhere and have privacy. It's not a home with a yard and a fence and a scruffy little dog, but at least it's more than just a room with a bed in it. I want to give you that, Myka. A home; a place that is for you and me and our family, however and whenever it grows."

Myka turned her hand over so that she could lace their fingers together. "God, Helena. You really know how to overwhelm a girl, don't you?" She smiled weakly. "It's just so hard to accept - this is my reality now. I feel like I've stepped into another mirror, only this time, it's my favorite fantasy instead of my worst nightmare."

"Oh trust me, darling, this is reality. My shoulder aches too much in the morning for this to be a dream." Helena said with a soft laugh. "However, if this is your dream, then I say, don't wake up." Turning her head to look up into Myka's face, she murmured, "You do like it, don't you? I very much want you to like it."

There was so much fear in Helena's tone that Myka immediately bent her head and brushed a kiss over Helena's lips. "Of course I like it. Are you kidding? I love it! I love you." She kissed her again and whispered, "Yes. Yes, yes, yes. A thousand yeses." Each 'yes' was accompanied by a kiss until she had pushed Helena to the bed and lay over her, scattering kisses all over Helena's face and neck.

"Um, what are you saying yes to so enthusiastically and wow! Can I just say, hot, much? Jeeze you guys should bottle this; you'd make a mint!" Claudia's cheerfully spoken interruption hit the lovers like a bucket of ice water.

Separating, Myka sat up and immediately tried to compose herself while Helena lounged back on her elbows and did what she did best - which was to appear as though she had thoroughly enjoyed her ravishing, which of course, she had.

Claudia clapped her hands together and started rubbing them vigorously. "Whoa. You may be a good guy now, H.G. but you are still really, really dangerous. Dayum. Okay, yeah, yeah, um, so, there was all this yessing and kissing, and the yessing, yessiree that's what I'm most curious about because anything else would be TMI and I'm a good girl and don't wonder about things like that about my best friends and could someone please say something so I'll shut up?"

When Pete climbed aboard the motor home, his melancholy mood was temporarily displaced by the luxurious appointments that stroked the greed centers of his lizard brain. He'd never been a covetous person, but having the kind of cash that could make a dealership pony up something as superbly appointed as this motor home was, in as short a time as H.G. had given them, made Pete just a little bit envious of Myka. She would never even notice half the cool stuff that the vehicle came equipped with, and that was just sad. On the other hand, she did have a smokin' hot woman to distract her, so maybe it wasn't all bad.

Well, if Myka doesn't care about it, then she won't mind me messing with it. He grinned and immediately started poking, prodding, moving, twisting, opening, and closing everything he could get his hands on and by the time he'd reached the bathroom door, he'd overheard enough of the conversation to know that if he wasn't very careful, he was going to say something that would get his butt very kicked by Myka.

Tossing out several crude but true comments about wishing to be a fly on their wall, he stuck his head in the door, grinned and said, "So she did say yes? Awesome. I'm so going to throw you the best bachelor party, H.G." His eyes began to sparkle as he added, "I know this great place. The drinks are cold, the dancers are hot, and man, oh man, can they dance."

"Pete! You are not going to take my girlfriend to a strip club!" Myka said in an outraged tone.

"Oh please Myka, I'm fairly certain burlesque reviews haven't changed much. They'll be quite lovely, I'm sure, but they'll be diminished, somehow, because when I look at them, I'll be trying to make them match up to you, and failing. I rather suspect that attending the burlesque isn't for my benefit anyway. It seems more of a rowdy thing to do, and I prefer to spend my evenings in pursuits of a more intellectual nature. After all, it is ever so much more rewarding to count the freckles on your spine with my tongue."

Pete clapped his hands over Claudia's ears. "Hey now, there are little ones present, ladies. Do try to recall that some of us haven't yet reached drinking age."

"Dude, get off me!" Claudia pushed his hands away. "My ears are no more virgin than the daiquiris that Leena makes for girls' night-in and I think I just realized something." She spun away from Pete and pointed at Myka accusingly. "You said 'yes' and you are wearing a massive rock on your hand which means you -" Claudia's finger swung toward Helena then. "Asked her a very important, big-assed question that usually ends in bells and dresses and ugly flower bouquets being tossed at a screaming hoard of desperate women." She shook her head. "Damn, I gotta stop watching Bridezillas so much."

Sitting up, Helena shrugged and said, "What can I say? I like to act on my impulses."

Joyfully, Claudia clapped her hands and danced in a circle. "Yes! Awesome! But!" She came to a sudden stop and to Myka said, "No sea foam, no fuschia, and definitely, positively, absolutely no boring beige! You will choose good colors, or I will show up in neon and tie dye, just to spite you!"

Watching the back and forth between her friends, Myka felt like she was stuck at the tennis match from hell. So many emotions piled up inside with each word spoken that she was certain she was about to burst. However, her fears were allayed by the happy grins her friends wore. Tentatively, she took a breath, licked her lips and then said, "Just for you, I'll make sure to pick out something truly obnoxious. I'm thinking ecru, or maybe dusty rose, or hey, I hear gray is good."

Mortified, Claudia pressed her hands together and said, "Oh please, please, please don't pick those. Please? I beg of you, hey - wait - for me? Does this mean? Are you asking? Oh, can I, can I?" There was so much excitement in Claudia's demeanor that Myka was afraid she'd vibrate a hole in the floor of the motor home.

Draping her arm around Claudia's shoulders, Myka grinned and said, "Of course, you silly goose! Whenever we get around to it, I promise you can be there by my side with bells and cool clothes on."

Helena stood, slipped her arm through Pete's, glanced up at him, grinned mischievously and said, "Well old man, that means I'm stuck with you as my bestie then."

She patted his chest protectively. "Don't worry. I won't make you wear pink, though it is quite a fashionable color for men these days."

"Um, thanks, I think?" Pete's expression was a cross between horror and delight as half of him was off in la-la land planning the mother of all bachelor parties while the other was terrified at what ridiculously Victorian ideas Helena was sure to unleash as her vision for his best man's outfit.

Lunch was served alfresco on the veranda. Leena had made soup, salad and sandwiches along with a plate of cookies decorated with stylized versions of Myka's ring.

"Oh those are awesome," said Claudia as she picked one up and tossed it to Pete. "Check it out."

He caught it and took a bite. "Yum. Frosting."

Myka took in the cookies and the luncheon spread and then looked at Helena. "Just how many people did you tell about your little impulse?"

"Only Pete, why?" Helena was busily pouring herself a cup of proper English tea.

Myka turned her querying gaze to her partner. "Pete?" she drawled sharply.

He grinned sheepishly. "What? I had to tell someone. At least it wasn't Artie!"

"At least it wasn't Artie, what?"

Everyone fell silent as the man in question wandered out onto the deck. He'd obviously just woken. His hair was askew, his glasses were crooked and his t-shirt was terribly rumpled. However, he looked more relaxed than they'd ever seen him.

"Well? What'd you forget to tell me this time?" he asked, some of his usual temper peppering his tone.

Pete looked at Myka, Myka looked at Claudia, Claudia quickly dropped the cookie she was nibbling and turned to face the man she sometimes thought of as a father figure. Pasting a grin on her face, she said, "Well, um, you see, there's this thing, and -"

In a very casual tone, Helena interrupted and said, "It's nothing really, Artie. Do come and join us for a cup of tea? We've just been discussing the fact that I've asked Myka to be my wife."

Helena actually stood, walked around the table, took Artie by the arm and led him to a chair.

Absently, he followed along, staring at the others with a lost, almost dazed expression on his face. When he finally sat down, he said, "Well, I guess that's just wonderful, really. I mean, who doesn't like weddings, right? I mean, it's great that you two are getting married and you do know that you can't actually get married, right?" His voice rose and fell, at times sounding irritated and others, almost tender.

Myka closed her eyes, unsure whether she should laugh or cry at Artie's response. Softly, she said, "I don't need a piece of paper and a blood test to prove that I'm going to spend the rest of my life with Helena." Stubbornly, she met Artie's gaze and, holding her head high, she added, "If you have a problem with that, then you can keep it to yourself."

"What? No, Myka, that's not – I mean..." Artie pulled off his glasses, rubbed his eyes and then said, "Am I thrilled that you've found happiness? Of course. Do I have doubts about the source of that happiness? You bet I do, but it's not because it's Helena. I'd be just as concerned if it were Pete or, or Claudia – workplace relationships can turn into one big mess if they go sour."

"Whoa, dude, that's like seventeen thousand different kinds of wrong," said Claudia. "First off – ew! Myka's like a sister to me and secondly, double ew, because Pete? He's the big brother-man around here."

Eyes wide, Myka nodded vigorously. "Yeah, Artie. Since when have I ever shown an interest in Pete or Claudia in that way?"

"Well, you did kiss me," Pete interjected, and then, when Myka glared at him and Helena gave him an appraising glance, he grinned sheepishly and said, "Okay, okay, Alice kissed me. Sheesh. But they're right – what gives, Artie? We're all cool with it – why aren't you?"

It was Helena, once again, who was able to intuit the cause behind Artie's bluster. "I do believe he rather sees himself as a father to all of you. Now that I've slithered into the picture and stolen his 'little girl's' heart, he's looking for a reason to test my mettle – just to be certain that I am the right person to take care of Myka. Have I sussed you out properly, Artie?"

The curmudgeonly older agent huffed once and then, gruffly said, "Of course you have. I think that's one of the things I'm going to hate most about working with you, Helena. You're too good at figuring me out." Standing, he went to Myka and said, "Look, I know you think I'm secretive, paranoid, and completely incapable of trusting people other than myself, and you're right, and I won't change, but that doesn't matter, because I'm not the one who's getting into this mess. So for what it's worth, you have my blessing. Go, be happy. Just try not to act like lovesick teenagers when you're working." As Myka smothered him in a bear hug, he grumbled, "All I want is for you to be happy."

Softly, Myka said, "I am, Artie. I really am."

Myka stared down at the sum total of her traveling life. Three bags, including her shoulder tote, containing all that she felt would be necessary for life on the road. She was at turns amazed and filled with trepidation at the idea of six weeks with just Helena for company. If their relationship was as true as it felt, this trip would be the final test.

"Is it the trip or the destination that has you staring at those bags like they've come to life?" asked Leena softly as she stepped into Myka's room.

Myka sighed and started nibbling her thumb. "What do you think?"

"It's never easy going home; harder still when you're bringing home your fiancée."

A nervous half smile crossed Myka's face. "No kidding. Not to mention there's the whole, 'Well, how long have you known each other, dear,' question I'm dreading." She let out an explosive sigh and collapsed onto her bed. "I mean, to me it feels like I've known Helena forever, but when you think about it -"

"You realize that it's only been a few months." Leena delicately perched herself on the bed next to Myka. "I was worried, you know, that this would hit you sooner or later."

"You were?" Myka's eyes widened.

"Of course. I've had what some would call a front row seat to the development of your relationship. For instance, I knew from the moment I saw both of you in a room together that you were drawn to each other. It was such a strong pull that I almost hung a picture of moths in your room and filled Helena's with candles."

Myka chuckled softly. "I don't know what it is about her, Leena. She gets to me so easily." Shaking her head, Myka murmured, "For a while, it seemed like she was there every time I turned around. Then when she wasn't, I found myself looking for her, hoping I'd see her and praying I wouldn't. Then, after Warehouse 2, I just wanted to crawl into a hole - I'd never felt so out of sorts in my life."

Leena reached out and gave Myka's arm a gentle squeeze, then said, "Love has a funny way of twisting us up inside. That's what you have to show your parents - let them see how Helena affects you, give them the chance to discover for themselves how much she loves you, and it won't matter that she's a recent addition to your life. They're your parents, Myka. They want you to be happy, and Helena makes you happy."

"She does." If pure joy could have been captured and bottled, Myka's smile would have lit Univille for a year.

"So what are you waiting for? Grab your bags and go have an adventure!" Leena stood and held her hand out to Myka, who accepted it and the pull to her feet with grace.

"Thanks, Leena. So, what do you plan to do while we're all out of your hair?" Gathering her bags, Myka took one last look around the room. On the surface, not much had changed, and yet, there was a definite sense that when she returned, the place would never be the same.

Together, they headed downstairs.

"Oh, I don't know. Perhaps some gardening. Maybe a day trip or two; I'm not really sure." Leena smiled mysteriously. "Don't worry about me - I will definitely enjoy my time off."

"And you're sure you don't mind looking after Little Pete?" Myka asked softly.

Leena smiled. "No, he's nice to have around. He can help me in the garden, even."

"Okay, well, if you're sure, then, thank you. Really, I didn't know how well he'd take to traveling and -" Reaching the door, Myka looked around for Helena but didn't spot her. Through the front window though, she could see that the door to the motor home was open. Heading outside, she was brought to a sudden halt when Helena emerged from the Winnebago.

She blinked once, rubbed her eyes and then blinked again. "Helena?"

Helena grinned. "What do you think, darling? Will I blend in?" She spread her arms and spun in a slow circle, displaying an outfit that was, in Myka's estimation, fantastically ridiculous.

From her feet, which were encased in bright green flip flops, to her Bermuda shorts, which were the blandest shade of taupe Myka had ever seen, Helena had chosen "modern tourist" as her dress guide. Her tank top was white, but over it, she wore a gaudy Hawaiian shirt with a pattern in so many shades of pink and orange that it took Myka a full minute to realize that they were dancing flamingos. The whole thing was crowned with a translucent green tennis visor/pony tail combination and an old fashioned Brownie Hawkeye camera suspended from a strap around Helena's neck.

Munching on a cookie, Pete wandered outside and said, "Hey, Myka, you think your mom could send me some of those - whoa, H.G. what'd you do, fall into a vat full of old fogie clothes? You look like you broke into my grandma's closet and stole her favorite vacation wear."

Looking perplexed, Helena replied, "Oh dear, I do believe I've gone and accepted fiction for fact once again. I really must speak to Claudia about her choice of movies. It's crushing to discover that a man of such comedic genius as Chevy Chase could get such an important detail wrong."

"Honey," Myka said as she dropped her bags and went over to Helena. "I think I preferred the Lara Croft look on you." With deft tugs, she removed the gaudy shirt, visor and camera. Giving Helena a long once-over, with a pause to admire how nicely the tank top clung to her lover's body, Myka grinned and said, "There. Now we're ready for a road trip."

Bunching up the unwanted garments, Myka walked back to Pete, shoved them at him and said, "Would you see that these are properly dealt with?"

Gamely, he took them, and then sniffed. Wincing at the pungent odor that emanated from the shirt, Pete said, "Smells like you took them from grandma's closet, too."

Curious, Myka leaned over, took a whiff and coughed. Whirling to face Helena, she put a determined smile on her face and said, "Dear, I think we're going to check your bags before we go. Toxic waste is something I'd prefer not to cart across half of the country."

"Oh really, Myka. I'm quite sure that the scent of mothballs isn't yet considered toxic," said Helena as she gathered up Myka's bags. "Now, if you want to talk truly obnoxious odors, I'd be happy to discuss how happy I am that people no longer keep chamberpots by the bedside."

"No, no, that's quite all right. I just want to be sure that you're comfortable," Myka hastily replied.

Watching the women as they boarded the motor home, Pete chuckled softly and said, "Myka is so whipped."

Though he knew she couldn't have possibly heard him, he still winced when she suddenly turned and glared at him. Raising one hand in a wave, he was surprised when she exited the vehicle and came back to his side.

Thrusting her hands into her back pockets, Myka bit her lip and said, "So, um, I guess we're going our separate ways now, huh?"

He shrugged. "It's only for a few weeks, right? I mean, you're not running off after leaving a 'Dear Team' letter again, which, by the way, sucked, thank you very much, partner."

She looked away and said, "I'm sorry. I just - I wasn't brave enough to face you, and it was wrong. I should have said goodbye in person."

"It wouldn't have worked. I'd never have let you go." He smiled. "And as it turned out, leaving was exactly the right thing to do. So, who's to say this isn't the right thing as well?"

She nodded. "You're right, but just to be sure, you're not getting any vibes about this trip, are you?"

"Nope," he said, smiling brightly. "Not a one. In fact, I can honestly say I have not felt a bad vibe about H.G. since kissing her in London." Hastily, he followed that up with, "Not that kissing her was bad, but it was, oh so bad, because she's your girlfriend, and I didn't enjoy kissing her one bit, nope, not a bit and yeah, shutting up now." He winced in preparation for a blow that never came.

Myka grinned at him and then, to his utter amazement, she leaned over and kissed his cheek. "Thanks, Pete."

"You're welcome," he replied. "Oh, hey, Helena, you look like you're ready to go."

Helena, who'd arrived in time to view the kiss, cocked one eyebrow and said, "I'd say it's definitely time to go before you charm more than a peck on the cheek out of my fiancée."

"Right, right, well, you ladies have a good time," said Pete as he backed away slowly. As much as he trusted that H.G. was now one of the good guys, there was still a certain dangerousness about her that made him want to scurry away like a field mouse running from a falcon.

"I'm sure we will," said Helena. She maintained her pretense for a moment longer and then added, "Pete, you should find Kelly. Show her that love is worth fighting for."

Pete stopped and smiled sadly. "It's tempting."

Myka added her encouragement. "Do it, Pete. You'll never know if you don't try."

Shrugging, he said, "Yeah. Maybe. What's the worse that could happen? She tells me no again, and breaks my heart twice. No big deal."

Helena pinned him with a look. "Some things are worth any cost."

"Regrets suck, Pete," Myka said softly, causing him to smile.

"You're the one who's right, now." Offering her a salute, he said, "I guess I have some searching to do."

As he turned to head back into the house, he was almost bowled over by Claudia. She was carrying a massive backpack as well as lugging her laptop case.

"Oh good they're still here. Take this," she said excitedly shoving the backpack at Pete and hurriedly jogged up to the Winnebago .

"Hey Claudia, what's up?" said Myka as she eyed the massive pack in Pete's hands.

Stuffing her hands in her pockets, Claudia defiantly raised her head and said, "Take me with you."

"Um, why?"

Helena refrained from comment, though she did look as stunned as Myka at the request.

"Because I've never gotten to go on a family vacation. And," she paused and then grinned mischievously. "You owe me." When no answer was immediately forthcoming, she said, "I can drive, and I can cook, and I have a tent so you guys have all the privacy you want, unless it's raining, in that case I'm totally crashing on the couch."

"Claudia -" Myka started to say, but was cut off when Helena softly said, "We'd welcome your presence, Claudia."

Myka turned to Helena and said, "Are you sure?"

"Of course I am. Claudia has just offered to be our personal attendant. Why would I turn that down? Any time I do not have to spend doing something else is time I have to share with you. Alone. In the bedroom," Helena replied softly.

"Oh. Oh!" Myka's cheeks turned pink. "I guess it might be kind of fun to have you along, Claudia. Just as long as you don't try anything suggested by Pete, such as sneaking a camera into the bedroom some morning to try and snap pictures of us drooling in our sleep."

"I can go? Really?" Claudia looked like the kid who'd just pulled the brass ring at the carnival.

"Yes, you can go. Get your stuff. Come on, we still have to figure out where to stop tonight," said Myka as she headed for the door to the motor home.

Collecting her back pack from Pete, Claudia gave him a quick hug and then raced for the Winnebago. "You want me to drive? I really can drive this thing. It's not much longer than my buddy's old school bus and we used to crank that thing up to ninety on the highway!"

Pete never heard the response, but he was amused to see Myka in the driver's seat while a disappointed Claudia slumped dejectedly in the passenger seat.

The engine coughed to life. Myka gave Pete a wave, put the vehicle in gear and started to back up, only to get nowhere quickly as the Winnebago inched forward instead of back.

Pete winced, expecting the crunch of metal, but miraculously, Myka managed to engage the breaks. He watched as words were exchanged until finally, Myka threw up her hands, pointed at Artie's car, pointed at Claudia and then thrust herself up out of the driver's seat.

With a grin and a cheerful salute at Pete, Claudia plopped down behind the wheel, and before Myka could even get settled on the passenger side, she threw the motor home into reverse and tore off down the driveway. The last thing Pete saw was Myka in Helena's arms as they clung to each other, both wearing similar expressions of fearful anticipation.

"Well, if they don't kill each other, they're going to have lots of great stories to share when they get back," he mumbled softly and then headed back into the bed and breakfast.

The End

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