DISCLAIMER: The characters herein are used without permission. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Again, obscure titles. One of these is for winter156, who named the source of one of my Five Things that Might or Might Not Have Happened to Helena Wells. I hope you don't mind that I've incorporated your ficlet into this one, but it just seemed to work J. Thanks to darandkerry for her patient beta reading and finding of lost words and added spaces. You're the best, dearie!
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To Fewthistle[at]aol.com
Five Things That Might or Might Not Have Happened to Myka Bering
I. I Am Much Too Small For This World, Yet Not Small Enough
She opened her locker, the faint scent of mildew and rusted metal, of cheap paper and grimy old textbooks, wafting out. She was tempted to try and crawl inside, to disappear into the rectangular opening, to disappear completely. Not that anyone would notice. Perhaps she'd be lucky and find another world beyond the chipped gray cinderblock wall; push aside the heavy stone and find a faun and a witch and quiver of arrows. There she could be brave and strong and save the world.
Here she was just the weird girl: the awkward, gawky one who was too tall, towering above all of the boys her age, a giant with a mass of curly hair amid the small and sleek and beautiful. She wasn't brave and she wasn't strong and she couldn't even manage to save herself from the looks of disdain, from the snide comments and the laughter. Always the laughter, that followed her down the crowded hallway, trailing in her wake like a filthy train.
It was only when she lost herself that she was free; only when she became Lucy or Susan or Alice or Huck or Charles Wallace that the taunts no longer stung and the thick walls of the school melted away. Then she was flying across the fields of Narnia or chasing the tesseract or floating down the dark waters of a wide river, no longer confined to the small world occupied by small people. Because she had found that while she was small, she was never small enough.
II. Arise and Go
Myka clambered carefully over the piles of books stacked haphazardly on the stairs, booby-traps of Dickens and Faulkner and Twain lying in wait, ready for one small misstep. She navigated slowly, the temptation to simply chose a random step, sit down and begin perusing the various tomes almost overwhelming. Only the task at hand pushed her onward and upward. She finally reached the landing, a dark, dank hallway crowded with myriad pieces of furniture, most of heavy wood and ornate design. She picked her way along, pulling out drawers, opening cabinet doors, determined to search every dresser, escritoire and desk before moving on to the bedrooms, thoughts of what might lie beyond the scarred panels leaving her with a decided feeling of dread.
She could hear Helena moving around downstairs, the more than occasional soft thunk and tinny rattle leaving an auditory trail as the older woman picked her way methodically through nearly sixty years worth of old newspapers, canceled bills, and magazines, the detritus of a lifetime of hoarding. Myka pulled out another drawer, a rush of sympathy sweeping over her as she surveyed the collection of old ticket stubs: movies, ball games, symphonies, the circus; a cache of memories of first dates and family outings, of summer afternoons and evenings under the big top, a cache that would soon be nothing more another bag for the landfill.
As she gently replaced the small pieces of paper and cardboard, she realized that the sound of movement from downstairs had stopped. She canted her head to the right, leaning a bit over the waxy banister to peer unsuccessfully down into the gloom of the foyer. She wondered briefly if Helena had located the letter from Zelda Fitzgerald that Artie had sent them to find. She called down, her voice a hollow echo. Helena didn't answer, the only sound now the muted tic-toc of the dusty grandfather clock languishing in a far corner of the entranceway.
"Helena?" Myka called again, a trace of concern coloring her tone. Again, no response.
Myka edged her way as quickly as possible down the staircase, dislodging what appeared to be a complete set of Michener's ponderous novels, sending them clattering down the steps in front of her, knocking over various other books in a cascade of cardboard and paper and dust. She scrambled over the resulting heap, grabbing hold of the doorframe leading into the living room and pulling herself over the now littered threshold.
Helena was sitting in the middle of the floor, legs crossed, dark head bowed over the yellowed sheaves of a letter. On the grimy carpet beside her, a bundle of similar letters lay, the faded green ribbon with which they had clearly been bound dangling from around her slender fingers. There was something in her posture, something in the way she held her shoulders, tight and bent that caused Myka to pause, one hand still gripping the doorframe.
"Helena?" Myka asked softly this time, taking a step, then another, advancing slowly across the room, her steps muffled by the rug.
Helena didn't look up until Myka sank to her knees in front of her. The despair in her eyes clutched at Myka's heart with the death grip of a terrified child and for an instant, Myka froze, caught in the depressive waves that flowed off Helena's slender frame like heat off a summer sidewalk. Helena made a small sound, half-moan, half-sob and the spell was broken. Myka reached out carefully and closed her hands over Helena's, her thumbs sliding up into Helena's palms, exerting just enough pressure to force the fingers clinging to the letter to flex a bit, loose enough for Myka to slip the letter from Helena's grasp.
As it came free, so did Helena's tears, wracking sobs that shook her body with tremendous force. Myka glanced down at the page, the fluid scrawl of Zelda's handwriting standing out boldly across the time-stained page. "Anyway, that is the way I am. Life moves over me in a vast black shadow and I swallow whatever it drops with relish, having learned in a very hard school that one cannot be both a parasite and enjoy self-nourishment without moving in worlds too fantastic for even my disordered imagination to people with meaning."
Myka carefully folded the letter and laid the page down delicately on the worn carpet. Inching closer on her knees, she just as carefully lowered herself to the floor beside Helena, her hand just as tentative as she gently wrapped her fingers around Helena's wrist, feeling the hard, fast pounding of her pulse. Helena turned with an incoherent noise, burying her face in Myka's neck, her arms like steel bands around Myka's waist as her sobs continued unabated.
Myka simply sat and held her, her hand smoothing along the warm silk of Helena's hair, her voice a steady stream of soothing words and sounds, meaningless and profound. At length, Helena stilled in her arms, her tears ceasing, as if someone somewhere had simply turned off a tap. She pulled back and looked at Myka, a smile of such sweet sorrow on her lips that Myka gasped softly.
"I was frozen again," Helena murmured. "Trapped inside my mind with such infinite sadness I could barely breathe. I could hear you calling to me. I tried to answer, but I couldn't. It was in some ways far worse than being bronzed. There, at least, I had some control. But this, this was such immense grief that I felt as if I were drowning in it. Thank you for rescuing me."
Myka swallowed the words that threatened to spill from her lips. Now wasn't the time. Wasn't the place. Instead, she gently extricated herself from Helena's arms, rising gracefully to her feet. She slipped a purple glove and silver bag from her pocket, bending and gingerly placing the letter, along with the others, inside. Tucking the bag into her coat, she held out a hand to the still seated Helena, her face unreadable in the dim light of the room.
"Come on. Let's go home."
Helena took her hand and allowed Myka to pull her to her feet. As the door to the old house clicked shut behind them, Myka murmured softly, "So we beat on, boats against the current, drawn back ceaselessly into the past."
III. Upon a Fearful Summons
In her dreams, her hands are covered with blood. Thick, viscous, sticky, the air of the entryway heavy with the tang of copper. A wide stain of darkening crimson spreads across the marble floor, seeping into the cracks, burrowing down between the stones, seeking earth, seeking home. "For to dust you shall return."
The flag that drapes the coffin is lined with broad stripes, the same bright red as the blood that coats her hands. She wonders if it would have been easier somehow if it had just been another agent, some stranger in a black suit. Not someone who had lain in her bed in the early morning hours, someone who had known the curve of her back and the soft sounds she made when she came, not loud enough to wake the neighbors. Not loud enough to wake her slumbering conscience with the reminder that she was sleeping with another woman's husband.
Somehow she knows it wouldn't matter. It would have been someone's son, someone's daughter, someone else's husband or wife. Someone else's blood on her hands. She wakes every morning drenched in sweat, the thin cotton of her pajamas clinging to her like a second skin. She wonders how much of the blood is her own.
IV. Let It Be For Nought
Myka was cataloging; meticulously, painstakingly cataloging. It was not artifacts, however, but sounds: soft sighs and gloriously helpless whimpers that issued forth from Helena's lips with every slight movement of Myka's fingers under the crisp cotton of Helena's shirt. Sounds that escaped with increasing frequency as Myka's lips mapped the long line of Helena's throat, sucking gently at a firm earlobe and then moving back to capture parted lips, swallowing the sharp gasp of breath as Myka trailed her fingers along the rounded swell of Helena's breast. Thus it was with a researcher's sense of annoyance at being interrupted that she heard Claudia's voice drifting down to them from the balcony off Artie's office.
"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways," Claudia pronounced, with a flare for the dramatic so often reserved for teenaged girls and drag queens.
Myka lifted her head, taking in Helena's unfocused gaze as she glanced up, lust-darkened eyes meeting Claudia's. She opened her mouth to respond, only to be beaten to it as Helena said dangerously, "Far fewer ways than I can think of to kill you, my dear, if you don't disappear this instant," tightening her grip around Myka's waist as the taller woman attempted to step away from her.
"I'm going to pretend that I don't know that you really mean that," Claudia muttered with a scowl before vanishing from Myka's line of sight, grumbling to herself about someone's crappy British sense of humor.
Myka had just begun to resume her cataloging tasks, her lips centimeters from Helena's, when a thought wriggled its way out from the back of her brain. "What do you mean, far fewer?" She asked, drawing back to gaze at Helena speculatively.
It was clear from the time lag between Myka's query and Helena's response that the only thing Helena had been expecting was the feel of Myka's lips against her own, not a question. And definitely not a vague inquiry about few and far. Myka watched as Helena's brows lowered, obviously attempting to process Myka's words.
"Far fewer what, darling?" Helena asked finally, her dark eyes focused on Myka's lips.
"When Claudia quoted 'how do I love thee', you answered 'far fewer ways than I can think of to kill you'," Myka replied, now stepping back a few more inches and canting her head to the side, a pose usually reserved for Pete when he had said something patently stupid. "So, you love me fewer ways than you can come up with to maim and torture an innocent child?"
Part of Myka's mind registered that she was being a trifle unreasonable and wasting a perfectly good afternoon of 'cataloging' by picking an argument. The rest of her mind didn't care.
"Now, darling, you know that wasn't what I meant," Helena began in a soothing tone, a sexy smirk on her lips as she once again closed the distance between them and attempted to slip her arms around Myka's waist. "I was merely trying to send dear Claudia away so that we could continue with our activities. I believe you did say that you wanted to discover if the noises I make in bed are different from the ones I make with my clothes on."
"So how many ways do you love me?" Myka challenged, deftly avoiding Helena's embrace and moving to lean against the cold concrete wall of the Warehouse, arms crossed and gaze pointed.
"I wasn't actually the one quoting Barrett Browning, darling. It was Claudia who was pondering that eternal question," Helena countered, her tone faltering as it became clear from the darkening expression on Myka's face that she had taken the wrong tack on this argument.
"So, you can't come up with a single way you love me?" Myka demanded, her voice at least a quarter octave higher than normal. Again, the thought registered that somehow what had begun as a lovely few hours of kissing and touching and more kissing had now devolved into what promised to end in one of them stomping off in a fit of pique as the other stood looking dazed and decidedly confused. She just couldn't seem to stop herself.
Myka observed almost clinically as Helena paused and regrouped, her lips opening and closing a few times as she considered one avenue and then another, rejecting several before she, at length, spoke.
"Just one," Helena said softly, her eyes unreadable in the slight gloom of the warehouse.
"One?" Myka responded, hands unconsciously planted on her hips, head canted even further to the left, lips pursed in annoyance.
"One," Helena replied, taking a cautious step, then another, advancing slowly towards Myka, her hands held out before her, palms up.
"One? You can only think of one way you love me?" The challenge was gone from Myka's voice. All that remained was confusion and a faint trace of hurt.
"Just one. That's all I need. That is all there is. Numbers are meaningless when there is only one thing. I love you with all that I am. You are my life, Myka," Helena reached Myka's side, grasping her hands tenderly in her own, their fingers fitting together like a finely woven basket. "Is that enough?"
Myka stilled at Helena's words, eyes fixed on the sculpture of flesh and bone made by their joined hands.
"That's more than enough," Myka answered, drawing Helena back into the circle of her arms. "It's everything."
V. kisses are a better fate than wisdom
It had taken a while for Myka to figure it out. It was one of those vague, sensory memories, like smelling bread baking and thinking of her grandmother. She remembered the first time she had visited the country with her parents, driving north, away from the tall buildings of downtown, from the sprawling ticky-tacky of suburbia. It had been late September and the flash of orange and red and gold past the windows of her father's battered Buick station wagon was a moving kaleidoscope river, undulating in waves of color.
They had driven for hours it seemed, through fairytale forests, deep and mysterious and never-ending, past small towns nestled against the rising slopes of mountains. They had stopped at a roadside stand that sold pumpkins and apples and touristy knick-knacks. It had rained a little, a gentle Autumn cleansing, and the air still held a hint of moisture, a freshness that she had never experienced in the city. Arrayed along the front of the stand were basket upon basket of apples: Macs, Granny Smiths, Empires, and Romes, all round and plump and red and green and dappled with rain.
Myka remembered picking one up, a small, shiny red globe that rested snugly in the palm of her hand, and licking the rain drops off the crisp skin of the apple. She could taste the sweetness of the fruit in each tiny droplet, the scent of the apple and the rain and the evergreens behind the stand and the sheer beauty of the world and being alive rushing into her nose and mouth.
That was what Helena's lips tasted of, and every time Myka kissed her, the wonder of that moment came rushing back to her.
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