DISCLAIMER: The characters herein are used without permission. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is a sequel to By the Pricking of My Thumbs. While it is not absolutely necessary for you to have read it, I would suggest you take a gander, if only to know what in the world is going on, since I veered completely away from canon into my own much happier world. Besides, my greedy little Muse insists on pointing out that it's not too bad and who doesn't enjoy a good read? *bg*
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To Fewthistle[at]aol.com
A Kind of Blindness
The flames rose up against the winter sky, the brilliant orange glow reducing the light of myriad stars to little more than the faint flicker of fireflies, small and insignificant beside the conflagration of fire. The wind rushed through the streets, now chasing the flames, now fleeing in front of them. Trees were reduced to charred stumps, houses and buildings to nothing more than skeletal remains, the outline of chimneys and toppled walls dark against the pale effulgence.
Wide, ferocious streams of water sent steam wafting into the air, the shouts of men and the blare of sirens echoing into the night, drowning out the soft, barely decipherable sound of music; the notes weaving around and between the flames, urging them higher, sending them burning ever brighter, ever hotter, until there was little left of the town but the dull gray of ashes.
Only then did the music cease.
Leena's Bed and Breakfast, Univille, South Dakota
The room was dark. A slender ribbon of light curved across the carpet, and climbed the side of the bed to lie, pale and evanescent as stardust, against the bare skin of Myka's leg. Even approaching thirty, the young woman still slept as her Christina had: as unrestrained in slumber as in wakefulness. Myka's body lay sprawled with trusting recklessness in the middle of the mattress, the covers thrown back to reveal the pale blue of her silk nightshirt. The long line of legs and the subtle curve of hip and breast belied the childish abandon of the pose. Not that Helena was under any misapprehension about that.
Helena stood unmoving at the end of the bed, dark eyes narrowed against the gloom, head canted to one side in silent contemplation of the sleeping figure. She knew she shouldn't be here; even being her lover, she had no business invading Myka's privacy without an invitation. Still, after what seemed long, futile hours waiting for sleep to overtake her, she had risen from her own bed and padded softly across the hall to Myka's room, pulled by some invisible thread to watch the slow, steady rise and fall of Myka's chest, irrationally needing to make sure the other woman was all right. It had been an arduous week and Helena still worried that the younger woman had not fully recovered from her ordeal with Frigg's spindle.
Myka had insisted on going back to work within a few days, arguing that she needed to be busy, needed to be out in the light, away from the shadows of the nightmare that still seemed, at moments, to haunt her. The flight back from Georgia had been unrelentingly long. Myka had slept the entire way, her head resting on Helena's shoulder, her body twisted awkwardly in the seat, long legs at an odd angle, one arm wrapped tightly around Helena's waist. They'd finally arrived home, Pickett's spurs in hand, to find that somehow, the dodge ball had gotten loose in the warehouse and multiplied. And multiplied. And multiplied. It had taken Myka, Pete, Helena, and Claudia the better part of five hours to round them all up again.
Helena had insisted that Myka go to bed as soon as they returned to Leena's. Alone. Myka had protested that she slept better with Helena there, but the Englishwoman had been quite adamant, maintaining that Myka needed an undisturbed rest. She had, of course, neglected to voice the insidious fear that had been creeping unbidden into her mind at random moments of late: that she'd begun to be unable to distinguish where Myka ended and she began; that her whole reason for existence now rested in changeable green eyes and slender arms that assured her that the world was not as chaotic and cruel a place as she knew it to be. Myka had seamlessly fit into the slot at the center of Helena's heart, at the center of her life. The last person to hold that most unenviable of positions had been ruthlessly, brutally taken from her and deep in the recesses of her battered psyche, Helena trembled at the thought of what losing Myka might do to her
So now, here she stood, pondering the thought that never once, in all those hundred years of waking sleep had she dreamt that she would ever stand, arms wrapped around her body, shivering in the drafty air of an old house, watching the woman she loved sleep. The Fates indeed were capricious old hags, not a little prone to malice.
The sheets on the bed rustled and Myka stirred, her body moving restlessly. She turned onto her back, toes curling downward as she stretched her limbs, a soft sound, part whimper, part contented sigh, breaking the silence of the room. "Helena?" Myka's voice was rough with sleep and exhaustion. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing, darling. Nothing's wrong. I'm so sorry to have woken you," Helena quickly reassured, crossing the short distance to the edge of the bed and taking Myka's hand. "I just I wanted to check on you. Make certain that you were all right."
"I'd be better if you'd just get in bed," Myka answered drowsily, throwing back the thick comforter and scooting over to make room. "I told you that before. Then you wouldn't have had to get up. You could have just rolled over and checked on me."
"Indeed, I could have. I just thought you'd sleep better with the whole bed to yourself," Helena replied drolly, unable, as ever, to resist the innocent charms of her sleepy lover. She slipped off her robe and slid into the bed, pulling the covers tightly around both of them. As was often the case, the warmth of the bed reminded her body just how cold she had been, sending a fresh round of shivers through her limbs.
"God, Helena, you're freezing. Your feet are like ice. Come here," Myka chastised, voice slightly alarmed. As she spoke, she pulled Helena against her, her hands rubbing swiftly along her back and arms. "How long have you been standing there and why the hell didn't you just get in bed?"
"A few minutes, I suppose. Well, perhaps a bit longer," Helena admitted, allowing herself to sink into the protective warmth of Myka's arms. "I merely came in to make sure you were sleeping and then well, I must admit, I do love watching you sleep."
"Something that is much easier, and much less likely to cause frostbite from the comfort of our own bed," Myka murmured, the lateness of the hour and the feeling of absolute rightness now that Helena was where she belonged, in her bed, in her arms, leaving her drowsy. "Go to sleep, honey."
Myka's choice of words, intentional or not, were not lost on Helena. Our bed. Helena fought the terrifying wave of panic that threatened to overtake her, monstrous walls of water washing away everything in their path. Helena had lost count of the number of people to whom she had given over momentary control of her body, the number inconsequential: nameless faces now, lost to time and the fog of indifference. There had been only two souls to whom she had ever ceded power over her heart and losing the last one had nearly killed her.
She must have tensed, for Myka gently said her name, the hand on her arm moving to slip beneath the thick fall of hair at her neck. "Helena? You okay?"
Tilting her head back and looking up into Myka's face, the lines of high cheekbones and full lips softened in the faint light, the love in her eyes glowing like an ember in the darkness, Helena knew she was already lost. There was no hope of fleeing now, no chance of removing herself from this 'ever fix'd mark'. There hadn't been for a long time now, perhaps from that first moment, over the barrel of a gun.
"I'm fine, my darling. All warmed up," Helena answered, a soft smile curving her lips. "Let's go to sleep. You were right. This is infinitely better."
It seemed that she was well and truly in love and all she could see clear to do was wrap her arm a little tighter around Myka's slender frame, close her eyes, and pray to a God she had long ago determined could not possibly exist that He would not be so cruel as to demand another sacrifice from her.
That would be one more than she could bear.
Leena's Bed and Breakfast, Univille, South Dakota
The front door of Leena's flew open, the handle crashing against the wall with the loud bang of a gunshot, adding yet another layer to the indentation in the pale floral wallpaper. Claudia would have liked to have believed that it was the force of the winter wind barreling across the flat plains which was responsible for the slamming door, but she knew it was another force, one equally blustery and ferocious: Artie.
He barged into the dining room, glasses barely perched on the end of a nose reddened by the cold South Dakota air. His thin hair stuck out in all directions, his clothes rumpled and ill-fitting, a worn woolen scarf wrapped around his neck. He dropped his ubiquitous black bag on the table, eyes scanning the room with an irritated expression.
"Where is everyone? Doesn't anyone around here have any kind of work ethic?" Artie demanded, a perpetually annoyed note in his voice.
"Artie, it's seven a.m. And hello? I'm here," Claudia replied around a mouthful of Cheerios, a bit put out at being so thoroughly overlooked.
"Yes, yes. I know you're here, Claudia. I was referring to your absent colleagues," Artie huffed, although his expression softened a little as he regarded Claudia. "Where are they?"
"Um, well. Pete's not here," Claudia began, brought up short as Artie rolled his eyes. "Right. Obviously, he isn't here in this room. No, I meant he isn't here, here. Pete's at Kelly's. He went over there last night when we got back from that friendly game of dodge ball we all enjoyed so much."
"And Myka and," Artie paused, releasing a pained sigh, "and Miss Wells? Where are they?"
Claudia took a deep breath, her eyes glancing quickly at the ceiling. "They're still asleep. Myka was really tired last night. You know, I think she's still wiped out from playing Sleeping Beauty. She really should have taken a few more days off. Gone to see her parents. Maybe hit a spa or something."
"Which room?" Artie asked pointedly, his eyebrows a single line across his brow as he turned abruptly and headed for the stairs.
"Huh?" Claudia hedged, trailing along behind him, fully aware of Artie's meaning and wondering how in the world she could manage to warn Myka and H.G. before Artie got there first.
In the few weeks since Myka's ordeal with the spindle, neither Myka nor H.G. had ever asked anyone not to say anything to Artie about the new level of their relationship. There was an unspoken agreement that doing so definitely fell under one of those generally accepted rules of survival, like not teasing the monkeys at the Bronx Zoo. Chances were good that if you did, you'd end up with a face full of monkey poo.
And unless Claudia could find some way to head him off, it seemed as if poo was in all their futures this morning.
"Which room, Claudia?" Artie repeated, his level of irritation growing at an exponential rate.
"Which room what?" Claudia stalled, her voice overly loud given their proximity to one another.
"Claudia, playing dumb doesn't suit you. And despite what all of you seem to think, it doesn't suit me, either. Do you honestly believe I hadn't noticed the fact that they can't seem to manage to be more than two feet away from each other?" Artie pronounced, his tread heavy as he started up the staircase. He stopped on the fifth step and turned, glaring down at Claudia. "Which room?"
"You know, I can go and wake them up. I don't mind. I know how much you hate climbing well, anything really," Claudia offered, attempting to edge around Artie's rather bulkier self on the narrow steps.
"One more time. Which room?" Artie demanded brusquely, the thin line of his lips and the intensity of his stare announcing that the game was over.
"Usually Myka's," Claudia said softly, a feeling of intense disloyalty seizing her as she surrendered the information.
Artie turned without another word and plodded up the remaining stairs. As he disappeared into the upper hallway, Claudia groaned softly and sat down on the steps to wait the coming storm.
Helena was dreaming. Myka could tell, could see it in the intermittent flutter of her eyelids, could hear it in Helena's often uneven breathing, as if she were running, as if something were chasing her. Given her own recent experience with nightmares, she worried that Helena was plagued by the same fears made manifest in her subconscious mind. She could not know that Helena's dreams bore no resemblance to her own story-like imaginings; there was no sequence, no narrative, merely disjointed images, a collage of pictures with no connection, melding into a disturbing whole.
Images of people long dead, of places she hadn't seen in a hundred years, of pocket-watches and time machines, of tropical jungles and dirty London streets. Helena's lashes lay dark against the pale skin of her cheek, the sporadic movement of her eyes behind closed lids a psychotic Morse code that just might hold the secrets of her fractured soul if only they could be deciphered.
Myka lay propped up on one elbow, head cradled in her hand, and watched Helena sleep. She seemed to sleep best in these early morning hours, when the coming day was merely a promise behind the thick curtains of the bedroom. Myka traced the gentle curve of Helena's cheek with the back of one finger, careful not to wake her.
She knew instinctively that Helena did not sleep well, knew that long after she herself had succumbed to exhaustion that Helena lay awake, unable or unwilling to surrender. Myka tucked the edge of the blanket along Helena's back and, with a sigh, lowered her head to the pillow beside her, eyes slipping shut, just as a loud pounding began on the bedroom door.
"Pete! Go Away!" Myka ordered, as Helena stirred next to her, her muttered words too quiet for Myka to make out. As the banging continued, Myka yelled, struggling to her feet. "Pete!! Stop it! No, you may not join us. You may not watch. And the use of any and all flash photography is strictly forbidden. Got that? Now go away!"
Throwing wide the door, Myka met Artie's glowering face.
"As you can see, I'm not Pete," Artie intoned, his tone slightly contemptuous as he continued. "Now, if you and your friend, could be persuaded to remember that you have a job to do and drag yourselves out of bed, we have work to do."
His words were met with stunned silence. Beyond the edge of the open door he could see the dark splash of Helena's hair against the pillow, and the shapely curve of one bare calf against the pale green comforter. Shaking his head disgustedly, he started to turn away, only to be pulled up short as Myka's voice sliced through the air between them with the precision of a samurai's sword.
"You know what, Artie? I don't care if you are my boss. You don't get to talk to me like that. You don't get to march up here and say things like that," Myka informed him, her voice hard and flat. "You may not like Helena, but she's been doing an amazing job. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for her. And you know what? I don't even care if you don't like me. I definitely don't care if you approve of our relationship.
"We have been nothing but professional while we're working. What we do when we aren't is none of your business, or anyone else's for that matter. And unless you're prepared to trot on down to Kelly's and say the same thing to Pete, you don't get to make petty, judgmental comments. We'll be down in a few minutes."
The slamming of the door reverberated through the house. Myka forced air into her lungs, her chest tight as a rush of anxiety overtook her. She felt the swell of panic, the need to apologize, to rush after Artie and explain wash over her. Only the press of a warm, supple body against her back, and the feel of strong arms circling her waist quelled the anxiety, like a hand calming a turbulent sea.
"Whilst I am aware that it was not completely for my benefit, I have to tell you, my sweet, that that was the bravest, most romantic thing anyone has ever done for or about me." Helena told her softly, her cheek resting against Myka's shoulder.
Myka smiled tremulously, her hands coming up to cover Helena's where they rested on her stomach. She tilted her head back so that she could plant a gentle kiss against Helena's temple, the hair silken down under her lips. "I'm glad you think so. I'll be sure to remind you of that when we're unemployed."
Helena laughed, the rich tones resonating inside Myka, sinking into her bones. "I don't believe that Artie has any intention of firing either of us. I don't think he holds that kind of power. God knows, if he had any say in the matter, I would be a lovely perch for sparrows, not a Warehouse agent, so I don't believe we have anything to fear on that score, darling."
"I don't know what happened there I have never done anything like that. I can't believe that I just slammed the door in my boss's face," Myka muttered nervously, shifting in Helena's arms until they were facing one another. "I just when he made that comment, I just snapped."
"My darling, it's all right. Really. I think that you were perfectly justified in what you said, and to be completely honest, I think it was high time someone got Mr. Nielsen sorted," Helena replied solemnly, only the faint twinkle of amusement in her dark eyes belying her serious tone.
"Oh, he's something all right. I'm not sure that sorted is how I'd describe him, but he's definitely something," Myka agreed, a worried smile ghosting across her face.
"Thank you," Helena said quietly, all trace of frivolity gone from her face.
"For what?" Myka asked, a puzzled frown creasing her forehead.
"Defending me. Defending us. It means a great deal to me," Helena replied, one hand coming up to cup Myka's cheek.
"You mean a great deal to me," Myka answered, pulling Helena closer, "I don't want you to ever doubt my feelings for you. I love you, Helena."
"If I had ever had any doubts, they're gone," Helena smiled. "After all, you just slammed the door in Artie's face. If that isn't love, I don't know what is."
Myka laughed, leaning her forehead against Helena's. "Go get in the shower so we can get down there before Artie sends Mrs. Fredric after us."
"We could shower together," Helena suggested, her face a study in innocence. "It would be much quicker."
"Oh, no. You're not going to con me with that one again," Myka countered, slipping free of Helena's arms to walk toward the bathroom. She paused in the doorway. "The last time we tried that, we almost ended up in the emergency room. No, you go shower in your room. It'll be quicker and safer."
"Oh, now, darling, you cannot possibly blame me for that tiny little incident," Helena argued, lips quirking in a grin. "How was I to know that the shower rod was so insubstantial?"
"Go. Now," Myka ordered, trying hard not to laugh as she pointed at the door. "I may be okay telling Artie off for making nasty comments, but I don't think I would survive explaining that we can't go to work because you wanted to see just how much weight the shower rod could take. Now, get!"
"I love you, too, Myka Bering, even if you are a bit of a martinet," Helena smirked, slipping out and closing the door behind her before Myka could respond.
"You just wait till later, Helena Wells. I'll show you who's a martinet," Myka muttered, grinning. "Just wait."
He stood in front of the remains of the Congregational Church. The spire was a withered spike shooting up into the clear morning sky. The graceful curve of the rounded doorway was now nothing more than a gaping hole through which he could see the charred remnants of pews, the altar atrophied and shrunken. A layer of charcoal covered everything, a sodden mass of glue-like gunk under his feet. The morning breeze ruffled his hair and sent a cloud of ash swirling through the air like dark, misshapen snowflakes.
A terrible silence lay over the town, as people milled aimlessly about, sifting through what was left of their businesses, of their homes, of their lives. There was an occasional cry of elation as someone found a family photo undamaged, or discovered a hidden trove of items unaffected by the fire, but more often it was a cry of despair at the ruination all around them. It was these latter sounds that delighted him, that sent a thrill of twisted joy rushing through his body. The sense of collective grief, the feeling of impotent rage and thwarted dreams ran like quicksilver under his skin, the euphoria that followed far better than anything a needle had ever delivered.
As he made his way up the grimy, soot covered street towards the edge of town, he began to whistle, a foreign, haunting melody. He felt the bag he had slung over his shoulder jerk as if something inside it were struggling to be free, but he simply smiled and pressed the bag tighter against his body.
"Soon, my little friend. Soon," he promised softly, an odd light in his eyes, as he continued slowly down the debris-strewn road. "Very soon."
Leena's Bed and Breakfast, Univille, South Dakota
"Sorry I'm late, guys," Pete grinned, as he breezed into the dining room. "Kelly made me chocolate chip pancakes and we all know how much I loves me some pancakes."
His apology was met with silent nods of understanding from the three women seated at the table and a glare of extreme irritation from Artie. The tension in the room was palpable, like a swarm of angry bees hovering in the corner, ready to attack at the slightest provocation.
Pete stood hesitantly in the doorway that led to the living room, unable to force his legs to move, as his eyes scanned from one face to the next: Claudia sat quietly with eyes downcast, fingers moving idly over the touch screen of her phone; Myka's expression was as dark as a Plains thunderstorm, her bottom lip caught between her teeth, her leg jumping erratically under the table.
Artie's brows were pulled down into one ferocious line, the anger radiating off him like heat off August asphalt. Only Helena seemed relatively unchanged, casting an amused look his way, quirking one shapely brow and curling the corner of her lips, her fingers wrapped, unashamedly, around Myka's wrist.
"Um, did I miss something?" Pete asked, trepidation stamped clearly across his handsome face. "Look, guys, I know I'm a little late, but you can't expect a man to turn down chocolate chip pancakes. It's practically un-American."
"Yeah, Artie, don't you have something to say to Pete about lying around in Kelly's bed all morning and not doing his job?" Myka sniped, eyes narrowed to greyish-green slits.
"Do you really want to discuss this now, Myka?" Artie snapped back, one sausage-shaped finger punctuating the air. "Because if you really want to have this conversation, we can have this conversation."
"Actually, Artie, I didn't want to discuss it at all. You're the one who came pounding on my door and made some really uncalled for remarks, remarks that I don't hear you making to Pete, despite the fact that he's half an hour late because he was with his girlfriend eating pancakes," Myka lashed out, her words a torrent of rain that had been threatening to fall since she came downstairs.
"Whoa. What kind of remarks?" Pete asked quickly, regretting the question the moment it left his lips.
"Petty, judgmental remarks," Myka said furiously, "remarks suggesting that Helena and I are too unprofessional to be able to separate our jobs and our private lives."
"Artie, man, not cool," Pete said with a grimace.
"Yes, well, if you had been any kind of a partner, you would never have allowed her to get involved with that woman," Artie bellowed, roughly pushing back his chair.
"Allowed?! Allowed?? I cannot believe that you would say that!" Myka yelled, jumping to her feet as well. "I am a grown woman, Artie, not some child that you can control!"
"Yes, allowed! If he had truly been watching your back, as you claim, he would have made you see that you cannot trust her! And if you don't want to be treated like a child, don't make such immature decisions like believing a word of what that woman tells you!" Artie's face was mottled, veins sticking out along his temples.
"Artie, man, you know, you need to calm down," Pete said soothingly, wishing for all the world that he had taken Kelly up on her offer to serve those pancakes in bed.
Helena hadn't spoken, watching the proceedings up until this point with a detached amusement. However, at Artie's words, she, too, stood up, eyes beginning to narrow dangerously. "To be honest, I don't really appreciate being referred to as 'that woman', nor do I welcome the aspersions you've cast on my character."
"Aspersions?! Those weren't aspersions. They were out and out vilifications! Rather appropriate for a villain, wouldn't you say?!" Artie spat at her, his glasses clinging desperately to the end of his nose.
"Artie! I can't believe how incredibly childish and mean-spirited you're being! Helena has done nothing to you except save your life, save my life!" Myka protested, her voice quavering a bit, tears starting to gather behind her eyes.
Pete was reduced to simply repeating Artie's name over and over, trying to get his attention away from Myka. Helena began to move towards Artie, expression stony, her posture not a little threatening, when Claudia's voice cut through the din of shouts and insults.
"STOP! Just stop! Please," she cried out in the voice of a frightened child, her face contorted with anxiety. "Please, stop yelling."
The room fell silent, all eyes focused on Claudia's anguished face.
"I'm so sorry, Claudia," Myka told her, crossing to where the young woman still sat and kneeling down beside her chair and rubbing comforting circles on her back. "We didn't mean to upset you. I guess we got a little carried away."
"We are sorry, darling. Truly," Helena added, gently ruffling Claudia's hair.
"It's okay," Claudia muttered, attempting to surreptitiously wipe away a few tears that had escaped to roll down her cheek. "It's just, you know with Joshua in Switzerland, you're my family and I can't stand it when people yell. I hate yelling."
"It's okay, Claud. I promise, no more yelling," Myka assured her, hugging Claudia's thin shoulders.
A silence fell, broken only by the soft sound of Claudia's occasional sniff.
"All right, people. Do you think we could possibly discuss your latest assignment?" Artie asked. He didn't offer a single word of apology, but he had the good grace to give Claudia his version of a rueful smile. "You're going to California."
"What's up in California?" Pete asked, trying valiantly to restore a bit of normalcy to a very abnormal situation.
"Three suspicious fires," Artie pronounced, handing a file to Pete and one to Myka. He reluctantly handed the last manila folder to Helena. "The first at an abandoned church camp outside Millville, California. The second burned down the gymnasium at Foothill High School in the adjoining town, Palo Cedro. The third fire occurred last night. Eighty percent of the town of Millville burned to the ground."
"Was anyone hurt?" Claudia asked quickly, face concerned.
"Not yet, but given the escalation, it'll happen soon enough. The camp was deserted, the school was closed so the gym was empty. As for the Millville fire, it seems to have started in one of the churches near the center of town. It was slow moving enough that they were able to evacuate everyone in the area." Artie said succinctly.
"And you're convinced an artifact is responsible?" Myka asked stiffly, her expression when she looked at Artie still hostile.
"Yes. I am," Artie replied just as brusquely. "The first one at the camp was written off as someone using the buildings for shelter. It's been deserted for years and they've had problems with squatters. The fire at the gym could have just been a prank that got out of hand. It happened the day after a big basketball game with their arch-rivals. But then, you have an entire town that catches fire? That's one too many suspicious circumstances. Also, the firefighters in Millville claim that the fire seemed to keep one step ahead of them, almost as if it could think. At none of the sites could they find any sign of an accelerant."
"It could just be bored kids or something starting fires in random spots. That isn't like the center of the universe. Not much to do," Pete suggested.
"I'm not going to argue about this, too. Just get packed, get to Millville and find the artifact before someone gets killed. Claudia, warehouse, now," Artie ordered, rising abruptly, gathering his coat and bag and stalking towards the door.
A moment later, the front door slammed shut.
"Ladies and gentlemen, Genghis Khan has left the building," Pete announced in his best broadcaster's voice.
"That's not very nice, Pete. What did poor Genghis Khan ever do to you?" Helena tossed over her shoulder as she crossed to the stairs.
"Okay, then, California, here we come," Myka said, following closely behind Helena. "Claud, we'll call you as soon as we get there."
"Okey dokey. I'll just go and spend the day with Mr. Personality," Claudia groaned, pulling on her coat and heading for the door. "Pray for me."
Myka had barely crossed the threshold of her room when strong arms wrapped around her and she found herself held tightly against a warm, slender body. Helena's lips captured hers in a scorching kiss, hands wound fiercely in her thick hair. Only a need to breathe finally forced them apart, Myka raising her head to gaze dazedly down at into Helena's dark eyes.
"What was that for?" she asked bemusedly.
"Thank you. Again. For defending my honor. It's been many years since someone did that for me, and I just wished to show my appreciation," Helena answered sincerely.
"Am I going to get a thank you like that every time I defend your honor?" Myka inquired, her hands running sensuously up and over the curve of Helena's hips.
"Unquestionably," Helena smirked, pressing her body nearer, the hand at the back of Myka's neck urging her closer.
"Well, then. Just call me Lancelot," Myka smiled, stopping any further repartee with a kiss.
"I wasn't expecting it to be this lovely here," Helena murmured, face turned to the side to watch the landscape out of the passenger window of the rented SUV. "It's quite beautiful."
"It is pretty, isn't it?" Myka agreed, the reason for their trip forgotten for a moment as they drove through the scenic countryside.
The road was lined with a thick copse of trees, pines, hardwoods, the green of firs a dark contrast against the barren oaks and birch. An occasional house broke the tree-line, as they sped down Highway 44 towards Millville. Pete was sprawled along the back seat, head pillowed on his bag, eyes closed. He'd climbed in the back at the airport, claiming that he could use a little shut-eye, despite having slept for most of the nearly four hour flight. Helena suspected it was simply his way of being a gentleman and allowing her to sit up front with Myka. The drive wasn't going to be long, twenty minutes, according to the young man at the rental agency near the airport, but still Pete stretched out and feigned sleep.
Off in the distance, Helena could just make out the white, snow covered peak of Mt. Shasta rising up into the brilliant blue of an early winter sky. It reminded her of a long ago trip to the Pyrenees in search of a button from one of Napoleon's coats, the carriage ride from Toulouse to Pau an uncomfortable, lengthy journey across flat plains and rolling hills, to finally glimpse the mountains, their peaks shimmering white against an even bluer sky. She pulled her gaze from the scenery outside the window to the scenery inside, letting her eyes roam admiringly over Myka's profile: the straight nose and full, rounded cheekbones, thick hair falling in loose curls around her face.
Helena turned in her seat, casting a surreptitious glance in the back to see if Agent Lattimer was awake before reaching over and running her hand along the length of Myka's thigh, a wide grin spreading across her face as Myka quickly covered her hand with her own, capturing Helena's wayward fingers.
"Behave," Myka warned, the sideways look she threw Helena's way part-admonishment, part-amusement.
"I always behave, darling. It's just that sometimes, I behave badly," Helena smirked, pleased at the low chuckle from Myka that her words prompted. "And you do seem to bring out the less refined, less genteel side of me."
"Oh, so I'm responsible for your bad behavior, am I?" Myka laughed, threading her fingers through Helena's, both their hands resting on her upper thigh. "I can testify that you don't need any help from me when it comes to being unrefined."
Before Helena could answer, Pete's voice came from the back seat. "Please tell me that this means I'm going to get a private viewing of 'Girls Behaving Badly'," he grinned, sitting up to leer at them from between the seats.
"The only thing you're going to get a private viewing of is my fist as it connects with your nose, if you don't stop with the suggestive comments," Myka informed him, eyes glaring back at him from the rear-view mirror. "Or I could just mention to Kelly that you seem to be really interested in seeing my girlfriend naked."
Pete visibly swallowed at the latter remark. "You wouldn't, would ya?"
"In a heartbeat," Myka promised. Helena simply smirked and squeezed Myka's fingers a bit tighter.
"Yeah, okay," Pete groused, falling back against the seat. "You know, even as a lesbian you aren't any fun."
"Even as a lesbian?" Myka asked incredulously. "What is it with men and lesbians?"
"Oh, come on, Myka. Two gorgeous women together?" Pete answered, leaning forward again in his enthusiasm for the subject. "It's incredibly hot. What's not to love, right, H.G.?"
"Do not answer him," Myka warned, shooting an admonishing glance at the woman next to her. "Do not encourage him."
"But darling, he does have a point," Helena responded teasingly, her smile fond as she scraped her nails along Myka's palm. "Of course, two gorgeous women together will have absolutely no interest in you, Pete. None. At all," Helena replied, turning her head to face the back seat, dark eyes sparkling with amusement.
"You know, I'm surprisingly okay with that, "Pete replied, grinning widely. "I have a really good imagination."
"Pete, if you ," Myka began to threaten, cut short as Pete interrupted her with an expression of distaste.
"Eww. No, not of you two. Gross. That's like imaging my sister having sex, which I do not ever want to do," Pete grimaced, meeting Myka's eyes in the mirror. "Actually, I was thinking more of Megan Fox and Cat Woman."
"Pete, Cat Woman is a fictional character. You mean Halle Berry, right?" Myka corrected, sighing to herself that she was even engaging in this conversation.
"No. Cat Woman. Like on the original Batman series," Pete elucidated, oblivious to the consternated look on his partner's face.
"You mean Julie Newmar?" Myka questioned, shaking her head at Helena's puzzled expression.
"Yeah. She looked amazing as Cat Woman," Pete nodded, the puerile grin on his face growing.
"Pete, Julie Newmar is almost 80," Myka explained slowly, as one would to a small child.
"Yeah. I know, she's old now. I meant when she was Cat Woman and really hot," Pete said defensively.
Helena sat and listened to the exchange, fond insults and witty comebacks filling the interior of the truck, the banter so like siblings that she had to smile. A feeling of contentment stole over her, as it did at odd moments like this, when the sense of being part of something, of being part of a family, caught her unawares. However, as quickly as it came, the brief sensation of belonging fled, the broad grin she had been wearing fleeing like the last glimmers of twilight before the coming night.
Christina's death had been so devastating that she had withdrawn from the world, distanced herself from her own family. She had been so selfish, so completely obsessed with finding a way to bring her daughter back that she had simply disappeared, her own brother having no idea what had happened to her. He was gone now. Everyone she had known and loved was gone.
She should be used to the rapid cycle of her moods, the dizzying shift from the euphoria she felt in Myka's arms to the despondency of realizing that apart from that one person who had chosen, quite insanely, to love her, she was completely alone. When McPherson had first released her from her bronze prison, she had found it difficult to control the cacophony of emotion that threatened to drown out every rational thought, as the truth of her life, of the world in which she found herself became clear.
She had always hoped that one day the Regents would see fit to free her from her self-imposed confinement, but as the years turned into decades and the decades into a century, that hope had become poisoned, drop by drop, with the knowledge that, if and when she was released, Christina was still horribly dead and nothing she could do would ever alter that one essential fact.
It had taken months to overcome the panic as her inner sense of equilibrium swung unrelentingly, like Poe's pendulum, threatening at every pass to tear her apart. She had almost mastered a compensating façade, one in which she appeared far more stable than she actually felt. Still, her bronze time machine had done one miraculous thing: it had brought her Myka; Myka, who reminded her daily that there was good in the world, that there was reason to be grateful for her hundred years of solitude.
She forced the smile back on her face.
"So, you have fantasies about Megan Fox and 1960's Cat Woman, who's now nearly 80?" Myka mocked, a broad grin splitting her face, too intent on torturing Pete to notice the play of emotion on Helena's face. "Have you shared this little daydream with Kelly?"
"You know, I think we need to have a rule: what happens in the Warehouse, or anyplace we have to go artifact hunting, or, you know, anywhere, stays there," Pete complained, making a face at the back of Myka's head.
"I thought that only applied to Las Vegas," Helena countered, pushing aside the last vestiges of melancholy to smirk a bit as two equally astonished faces turned to stare at her. "What? You'd be amazed at what I've learned from Claudia."
"I think I'd be terrified to know what you've learned from Claudia," Myka conceded. "Remind me to have a little talk with Ms. Donovan when we get home."
"Are we there yet?" Pete asked, whining just a smidgen.
"Actually, we are," Myka answered, slowing the car as they passed the "Welcome to Millville" sign.
They smelled the devastation long before they saw it, the acrid scent filling the inside of the car, filtering in through the engine, seeping in through the cracks of the doors: sharp and pungent and overwhelming. Helena noticed that Pete blanched a little, his handsome face growing grim and pale.
Myka appeared to have noticed as well. "Hey, Pete, it would probably be a lot faster if we split up. Why don't you drop me and Helena off here in Millville and we'll see what we can find out about the fire, and you can take the truck over to Palo Cedro to the school and check it out?"
"You sure you two can handle this?" Pete asked with only a trace of his usual bravado, the grin on his lips never reaching his eyes.
"We can probably manage to muddle our way through," Helena responded, glancing curiously at Myka, her eyes questioning the change in Pete's demeanor. Myka shook her head imperceptivity and mouthed, 'Later'.
Myka pulled the SUV as close as possible to the orange and white striped barricades that were situated across the road. Beyond the barriers they could see the remains of what must have been downtown. Detritus was everywhere: blackened steel girders marked the edges of storefronts, filthy broken glass covered the sidewalks and streets, stray shards catching the sunlight and glinting like diamonds strewn in a muddy field. Here and there they caught a glimpse of figures moving through the wreckage and destruction, carting away debris, attempting to sweep up some of the glass and rubble, but the rest of the area was deserted, a pall hanging over the town.
Stepping out of the truck, the odor hit them with full-force. Pete grimaced, jaw clenching tightly at the smell. Helena gasped, her hands automatically rising to press the collar of her jacket over her nose and mouth. She watched as Myka wrapped her scarf around her lower face, then hastily circled to the back of the vehicle and opened the hatch. She rummaged through her travel bag, pulling out another, similar scarf, swiftly returning to Helena's side and making quick work of creating her own protective face covering.
As Myka tucked the ends into her collar, Helena grabbed Myka's hands, holding them for a moment to her chest, meeting Myka's green eyes. "Thank you, darling," Helena said quietly, voice muffled by the soft wool as her own hands unconsciously adjusted the buttons on Myka's coat.
"Yeah, so if you two are done dressing each other, I'm going to head over to the high school. Now, if you were undressing, of course I would hang around," Pete joked half-heartedly, pulling the driver's door open and hopping in. "Call if you run into any problems."
"You, too," Myka said, waving as the SUV made a sharp u-turn and headed back down Route 44.
Helena moved closer to Myka, the arms of their coats brushing, the fabric rustling in the unnatural stillness of the ruined street. "Now, are you going to tell me why Pete seemed so unusually unsettled by all this?"
"His dad was a firefighter. He was killed in a fire when Pete was young. I think that the smell and the sight of so much destruction would have been a little too much for him. That's why I suggested that he go to the school and see what he could find out there. It wasn't as huge a fire and besides, Pete and gyms and gym teachers are made for each other."
Helena leaned her head briefly on Myka's shoulder, tucking her hand into the crook of Myka's arm, the sense that theirs was an unequal partnership sprouting up once again, like a bottle always bobbing to the surface amid the tumult of the waves. At her best, Helena knew she had the potential to be a relatively decent human being. Not wonderful, not strictly good, but decent. Myka, on the other hand, Myka was a truly good person: thoughtful, kind, caring; all things that by nature and habit, Helena knew she was not.
"You are rather sweet, you know?" Helena sighed. "Definitely far nicer than I deserve."
"Well, I think that I'm exactly as nice as you deserve," Myka smiled back, tugging Helena along with her as they made their way past the barricades. "Sexier than you deserve, of course, but there's nothing I can do about that."
Helena laughed, a rich, throaty chuckle and squeezed Myka's arm before releasing it. "I suppose as inequities go, that is one with which I can no doubt learn to live."
"I kind of figured you could," Myka smirked, her face sobering as they progressed down the main street and the extent of the destruction became even more apparent. "Artie said that they think the fire started at the church. Let's start there."
The ten minute walk to the church had a funerary atmosphere to it, and Helena felt the same sense of catastrophic grief pervading the air that she had experienced over a century before. "It feels like walking through San Francisco right after the earthquake in '06. Much smaller scale of course, but the same sensation of overwhelming anguish, of having lost everything one possessed, everything one had worked a whole lifetime to acquire. It's a feeling with which I am now more intimately familiar," she said quietly, eyes clouded with memory.
Helena was so enmeshed in her thoughts that, at first, she didn't notice that Myka had stopped walking. It was only when the younger woman softly called her name that she paused and turned back, her breath catching at the expression in Myka's eyes.
"And when you lose everything, I guess the only thing you can do is try to rebuild, try to find other things, other people that are important to you. They don't ever replace the things and the people you've lostthey never could--- but maybe they help fill up a little of the emptiness that was left behind?" Myka suggested gently, her head canted to the side, her eyes, above the scarf, full of understanding and love.
Helena swallowed around the lump that magically appeared in her throat, drawing in a deep breath before replying, her voice hoarse with emotion. "More than a little. Much, much more."
"Um, so. There's the church up on the corner. Or what's left of it," Myka said, seeming to shake herself free from the intensity of Helena's gaze.
"Perhaps we can find the vicar," Helena offered, taking Myka's cue to move on from the implications of the moment.
"Minister. Or pastor," Myka corrected. "That's what they're called over here."
"Ah. Well, then, minister," Helena agreed amiably. "Shall we see who's about?"
They gingerly climbed the front steps, avoiding the pieces of charred wood and bricks. The stone floor of the church was intact, as were three of the walls. The church had been built of red brick and mortar, the interior painted a gleaming white, but now there was nothing but gray and black. The heat of the fire had reduced the thick pews of oak to smoldering embers. The two gaping holes in each of the exterior walls where the stained glass windows had been gave the appearance of ghastly, staring eyes. The metal crucifix above the altar had melted, twisting into an obscene, grotesque shape.
"Hello?" Myka called, her voice echoing unnaturally loudly in the cavernous space. "Hello, is anyone here?"
"Do American churches have vicarages? Or, ministerial residences, or whatever it is you call them over here?" Helena asked, the toe of her boot displacing what she surmised had once been a stack of hymnals, now simply ash and bits of curled yellow paper.
"Yes, usually. I'm thinking that pile of timbers right behind the church was probably the minister's house," Myka answered, bending to pick up a piece of bronze gleaming dully amid the soot. Helena moved closer to see as Myka rubbed the surface of the plate with her finger, finally uncovering the inscription: In loving memory of Alice and Archibald Bryson.
"You would be correct, young lady. It was indeed the minister's house." The owner of the voice appeared from what had once been the vestry, to the left of the altar, a wide broom in his hands. He was seventy if he was a day, a shock of white hair brushing his lined forehead. His hands and clothes were covered in grime. He shook his head sadly. "I'm afraid there will be no service today. First time in nearly sixty years that we missed a Sunday service."
"Are you the minister?" Myka asked, advancing carefully toward the old man.
"Reverend William Shaw. And you are?" He replied, a sliver of curiosity breaking through his obvious despair at the state of his church.
"Agent Bering, Secret Service. This is Agent Wells," Myka stated formally, holding up her badge and identification. "We were hoping to ask you a few questions about the fire."
"Secret Service? For a fire?" Rev. Shaw queried, a puzzled frown leaving deep furrows on his brow. "You don't think this was terrorism or something, do you?
"I'm afraid I can't really discuss that," Myka hedged, steering the conversation back. "Were you here when the fire started?"
The minister hesitated, his expression bemused. Helena said gently, "This must have been a beautiful church. Have you been here long?"
"Forty-three years," he replied, a sad smile crossing his face. "This head of hair was as black as yours when I came here. Now there's nothing left. No home, no church. My wife passed away two years ago from cancer. My faith teaches me that God only gives us what He knows we can bear. All I can think is that He must have a mighty high opinion of me. Of everyone in this town."
It hardly seemed the time or the place to voice her own ideas about God and the universe and the horrific things rained down on good people, so Helena held her tongue, but something in her eyes must have caught Rev. Shaw's attention. "Have you lost your faith, my dear?" His voice was so genuinely concerned that Helena was shocked to find herself blinking away the moisture gathering in her eyes.
Helena met Myka's obdurate gaze and saw the unconditional love in them, love for her. "In some things," she answered, her eyes never leaving Myka's. "In others, I believe that I have found it again, after a very long time."
"Reverend Shaw," Myka said, forcing herself to turn and face the old man. "Were you here at the church when the fire started?"
"No," he answered tiredly, "I was home. One of the stations was showing a John Wayne marathon, so I was stretched out in my easy chair watching Rooster Cogburn. My living room is on the far side of the house, away from the church. My hearing isn't what it was, so I had the television on kind of loud. With the all the shooting and the dynamite exploding, I didn't hear a thing. It wasn't until I smelled smoke that I realized anything was wrong. By then, the church was ablaze and the fire had spread to the house next door, the Chambers' house and the sparks had lit my roof as well."
"So you didn't see anyone or hear anything suspicious?" Myka asked, heart sinking somewhat at the minister's words.
"Nothing," he replied, glancing at her questioningly. "You seem to be suggesting that someone set this fire on purpose, young lady. Fire marshal said he couldn't find any sign of an accelerant or any other indication of arson."
"Reverend Shaw, what do you know about the fire that occurred at Foothills High a few weeks ago? Or the fire at the closed camp outside town?" Myka asked, refusing to be drawn in by the minister's claims.
"Of course, I heard about the fire at the school. Most folks seem to think it was just a prank that got out of hand," he told them, leaning heavily on the handle of the broom he carried. "As for the camp, well, that one I'm more familiar with. The camp belongs to the church and so I was contacted when one of the old cabins caught fire. The sheriff and the fire department both thought it was just the case of a drifter or some kids using the buildings for shelter. Probably built a fire to keep warm and accidentally burned the cabin down."
"So this church owns the camp?" Myka asked excitedly, clearly pleased at finding a possible connection between the fires. "Do you know how long the camp was open?"
"It was a church camp for boys. Opened up in, oh, must have been 1951, maybe '52. We finally closed it down in 2001. Just weren't getting the kids like we used to," Rev. Shaw responded. "You don't think they're related, do you?"
"I don't want to speculate, Rev. Shaw," Myka replied, slipping a business card out of the space behind her identification. "If you think of anything else, please call me at that number? And I am so sorry for what has happened to your church and your town. I promise, if someone is responsible for this, we'll find him."
"I'm still a bit unclear on what any of this has to do with the Secret Service," the reverend began, startled when Myka and Helena turned with a brief wave and started back down the aisle towards the door. "Agent Bering?"
"We'll be back in touch soon, Reverend." Myka assured him, intent on getting out the church before he asked any more questions about why they were there.
Outside, Myka paused, eyes scanning the street. There were the remains of at least a dozen homes, many of their owners going through the motions of trying to salvage anything they could from the debris.
"We should split up. I'll take the left side of the road, you take the right. Maybe someone saw something, or heard something," Myka suggested.
"Agreed. We should also call Claudia and see what her impressive computer skills can derive from the connection between the camp and the church. Granted, the window of potential perpetrators is rather lengthy. Still, she may be able to narrow down the list, using the attendees of the high school as a further reference," Helena supplied, pausing when she saw the grin of surprise light Myka's green eyes. "What?"
"Nothing. It's just that every once in a while, I'm reminded that I'm in love with H.G. Wells, inventor of time machines and grappling hooks," Myka chuckled. "Which, by the way, is pretty amazing."
"The time machine, the grappling hook or being in love with me?" Helena teased. "You modern day Americans have deplorable pronoun reference."
"All three. But especially the last one," Myka answered, pulling out the Farnsworth to call Claudia. "Although, I do really love that grappling hook."
Two hours later, with Claudia hot on the trail of possible arsonists, Myka and Helena had learned nothing new. They had interviewed everyone they could find on the two streets nearest the church, but no one remembered seeing or hearing anything unusual. Whoever, or whatever was responsible for the fire, he or it had left nary a trace behind.
They had called Pete earlier and agreed on a time to meet. They trudged wearily back towards the main road where Pete was going to pick them up. He had had similar luck, or lack thereof, at both the high school and the camp. He'd also stopped by and talked to the Fire Marshal and the local Sheriff. Although he hadn't revealed the real reason for the Secret Service's visit, he had managed to get permission to poke around. According to Sheriff Winders, at this point, any and all help was welcome, suspicious or not.
Climbing wearily into the SUV, Helena gratefully unwrapped the scarf from her face, wondering idly as she did so how Arab women coped with having to cover their faces on a daily basis. She leaned her head back against the seat and closed her eyes. In the passenger seat, Myka did the same with an exhausted groan.
"So you two got nada, huh?" Pete asked, guiding the truck back down Route 44 towards Redding. "Oh, and by the way, you reek!"
"No, we didn't find out anything and thanks for that bit of news, Captain Obvious," Myka retorted, not even bothering to open her eyes.
Helena pulled her hair across her face, inhaling deeply and grimacing. "I fear that we will never get the smell out of our hair and skin. We should be grateful we're merely visitors, not one of those poor souls who lost home and hearth in the fire. Still, the odor does remind me of a rather unfortunate incident involving a Venetian garbage scow and one of Lucrezia Borgia's combs."
Myka and Pete glanced at each other and started laughing.
"Falling into the garbage wasn't entirely my fault," Helena began, only to be interrupted by Pete's gleeful crow.
"We found it!" Pete announced triumphantly, reaching out a fist for Myka to bump. "Who da man?!"
"You found it? The comb?" Helena asked incredulously.
"It was our first experience as Warehouse agents. Let's just say it was a trial by fire," Myka told her, the choice of words not lost on any of them.
"Well, congratulations! I chased that bloody thing around Venice for weeks," Helena offered, warmed by Myka's smile as she glanced into the back seat.
"Hey, I went ahead and stopped by the hotel and got our rooms. I figured since I was right there in Redding, I'd go ahead and take care of it," Pete informed them, "Thought you two would probably be a little tired. 'Course we do have to eat. Anybody up for ribs and darts?"
"I'm too tired to eat anything that requires that much effort and Helena would kick your ass at darts, so let's just grab some takeout somewhere and go back to the hotel so that I can wash my hair a few hundred times," Myka replied.
"I must agree. I cannot wait to bathe. Repeatedly." Helena asserted. "I'm actually surprised you found hotel rooms, Pete. I would think that with the fire in Millville, there would be an influx of residents in need of lodging."
"It wasn't easy. Our hotel isn't the Ritz, but it looked clean and I got the last two rooms. I, ah, I didn't think you two would mind sharing," Pete responded, a slightly juvenile grin lighting his face as he saw Myka's troubled frown. "Of course, you know, Myka, if you're gonna be too worried about what Artie might say about you two being all unprofessional, I'd be happy to sacrifice and take one for the team and stay with H.G."
"Only if you're sacrificing a body part or two," Myka smiled smugly. "Just stop at In-and-Out and then get us to the hotel before I show you what unprofessional really looks like."
Half an hour later the two women were gratifyingly ensconced in their room.
"Helena, hand me your clothes," Myka ordered, a white plastic bag marked 'Dry Cleaning' in one hand. "I'm going to put our stuff in here. If I put it in the back of the closet, maybe it won't smell quite as badly."
"Are you asking me to disrobe, Agent Bering?" Helena asked innocently, a sly grin just touching full lips.
"Strip. Now," Myka demanded, holding out the bag.
"Hmm. Only if you promise that we can shower together this time," Helena bargained, relatively certain that the odds were in her favor. "After all, a hotel like this is bound to have sturdier fixtures than Leena's. And, I'll wash your hair for you, as many times as you'd like."
"Deal. Now get out of those clothes so we can get cleaned up, eat and go to bed," Myka agreed, trying to appear reluctant, not that there had been any real doubt what her answer would be. "Tomorrow's going to be a long day."
"Would you mind terribly if I alter slightly your order of events?" Helena inquired with a wicked smile.
"Helena!" Myka exclaimed, the rest of her reply cut short with the ringing of her cell phone. Watching Helena gracefully remove her clothing, Myka absently pressed the answer button on the phone.
"Agent Bering?" The voice sounded vaguely familiar: exhausted and slightly querulous.
"Yes, this Agent Bering."
"Agent Bering, this is Rebecca Chambers. You came by my home today. Or what's left of my home and asked questions about the night of the fire and you left your card and said to call if I remembered anything. Well, I have. Or rather, my grandson Kevin has. He's just eleven, but he's very smart for his age and he was staying with us that night."
"Yes, Mrs. Chambers, what did you grandson remember?" Myka prompted, trying not to sound impatient as the woman rambled. Helena tucked the last of her clothes into the bag and stepped, gloriously, stunningly naked, towards Myka, her expression curious.
"He says he heard music," Mrs. Chambers offered. "He loves music. He plays the trombone in the school band and he listens to his mp thingie all the time. My husband and I have to practically beg him to take those earphones out when he comes over."
"Mrs. Chambers, is it possible that your grandson actually was listening to his iPod when the fire started and because of the trauma, simply doesn't remember?" Myka asked, eyes fixed on the beautiful woman standing naked before her.
"Oh, no. You see, he'd left it at home. He was very upset when he got to our house and realized he didn't have it," Mrs. Chambers elucidated. "No, he heard music. Weird music, he says, although between you and me, most of what he listens to I wouldn't call music."
"Mrs. Chambers. What did this music sound like?" Myka probed. Helena moved closer, pressing her ear against Myka's cheek so that she could hear the reply.
"He said it sounded like a really out of tune guitar," Mrs. Chambers responded. "And it was odd music, he said, like creepy funeral music. Not that he's been to many funerals, mind you. Still ."
"Thank you, Mrs. Chambers, for calling," Myka told her, effectively cutting off what she knew would be a long tale. "Agent Wells and I will stop by tomorrow and talk to Kevin. Thank you again for calling. Good night."
"Out of tune guitar?" Myka pondered, glancing up to see the look of terrified excitement on Helena's gorgeous face. "What? Do you know what it is?"
Helena took a deep breath and sat down on the edge of the bed, completely unselfconscious about her lack of clothes. There really were too many variables, too many other options from which to choose, but she had a feeling, one of dread and exhilaration that had settled in the pit of her stomach the moment Myka had repeated the word, 'music'. All the wheels and cogs in her mind clicked into place. It all suddenly made perfect, horrifying sense.
"Helena! Do you know what the artifact is?" Myka repeated, sinking to her knees in front of her lover. Helena's dark eyes met hers.
"Have you ever heard the legend of Nero and the burning of Rome?" Helena asked rhetorically, as Myka nodded her head. "Nero reputedly played his lyre while the city was reduced to ashes all around him. Of course, modern retellings have changed the name of the instrument, but it's still the same artifact."
Myka sank back on her heels, staring up at Helena in dismay. "Someone's using Nero's fiddle?"
"So it would seem, darling. So it would seem," Helena said, a shiver sending a rash of goosebumps along her skin.
"Come one, let's get in the shower and get warmed up," Myka replied distractedly, pushing herself upright and offering Helena her hand.
"I have a very bad feeling, my love, that before this is all over, being cold will definitely not be one of our concerns." Helena said quietly, as she took Myka's hand and led her to the bathroom, the steam of the shower swallowing them up.
Woods outside Millville, California
He had seen the two women, scarves wrapped around their faces to combat the unpleasant smell of burned out buildings, burned out homes. He wondered what they would do to fight the overwhelming stench of burned out lives. Not that either of them would know anything about that. He could tell, could see by their clothes and the way that they walked, confident, arrogant even. He'd heard them asking questions, trying to find someone who had seen him, someone who had heard the music the night of the fire, the night he'd played a masterpiece. It didn't matter now if they did find someone. He almost welcomed it. He was tired, tired of hiding, tired of not being able to boast of his accomplishments.
Soon. Soon he would show them all. He opened the pill bottle and shook three blue pills into his hand, tossing them into his mouth, the taste of the vodka washing them down as sharp and acrid as the smoke. Closing his eyes, he dragged one fingernail across the strings, a slow smile spreading across his face as the pile of wood before him burst into flames, the cinders rising high into the winter sky.
"So," Pete said around a large mouthful of pancakes, "you're sure that we shouldn't run this whole Nero thing by Artie?"
Myka glanced sideways to meet Helena's eyes. They were sitting in a booth at the Black Bear Diner and both women were watching in fascination as Pete mowed his way through an enormous plate of pancakes, eggs and bacon called The Volcano. Helena simply grinned, a bit awed at the amount of food that he had devoured in a relatively short period of time.
"We think we should probably wait until we have something substantial to report," Myka replied, taking a sip of coffee and fiddling with a piece of toast.
"In other words," Helena broke in, "until we have something that isn't reliant solely upon my opinion. I think that we can all safely assume that as soon as we say that I believe that it might be the lyre, Artie will completely disregard the suggestion and attempt to steer us in another direction."
"Aw, come on now, Artie wouldn't ignore it just because it came from you," Pete asserted, his confidence dwindling quickly at the disbelieving expressions on Myka and Helena's faces. "Okay, so maybe he would."
"Yeah, he would," Myka agreed. "So, let's see if we can come up with anything concrete to give him. Helena and I will go back and talk to Mrs. Chambers' grandson "
Pete interrupted, his cheeks puffed out like a chipmunk preparing for winter. "Hey, maybe I should talk to the kid. You know 'de hombre a hombre'."
"Pete, he's eleven. I don't think that qualifies as an hombre," Myka laughed. "Although, considering you have the maturity level of a thirteen year old boy, kid to kid might work."
Helena chuckled over the top of her coffee cup, eyes crinkled in amusement. "He may be right. The young man might actually feel more of a kinship with Pete than with the two of us."
Myka hesitated a moment, catching her bottom lip nervously between her teeth. "You sure you don't mind? I mean, with the smell and everything?"
Pete's shoulders squared, his chin tilting up slightly as he nodded. "Absolutely. I'll be fine. It's just a little smoke, right?" He turned his attention back to his pancakes, spearing part of a stack with a vengeance.
His demeanor reminded Helena forcefully of her brother, Charles, a sharp stab of loss piercing her chest. When they were young, she had dared him to make the leap into the cold waters of the River Cray near Joynson's Mill. She had known that he was frightened, uncertain of his abilities to swim in the deep, swirling waters.
He had stood on the edge of the bank, his shirt stripped off, his chest narrow and startling white, a six year old boy trying desperately to be a man. He had ended up with a broken leg and she with a feeling, part guilt at her treatment of him, part satisfaction that she had emerged from the water triumphant and unfettered.
It was a feeling with which she had become reacquainted many times over the years, her sense of having conquered obstacles few other women had dared approach tempered by an odd, fleeting feeling of guilt that she was not what her mother had hoped she would be, that she had failed to fit into the mould of the proper Victorian woman.
The guilt had always been overshadowed by the achievement, but traces of it stuck in her mind, like nearly invisible splatters of paint in the corner of a room; traces that left her wondering in the middle of the night if she was worthy of the woman sleeping beside her.
The same woman who now sat beside her, forehead creased in a concerned frown that the traumas of Pete's childhood would make the interview too painful. "Yeah? Okay, well, if you're sure, then why don't Helena and I drop you off in Millville and we can drive out to the camp and see if we can find anything out there?"
"Don't suppose that Claudia has come up with anything?" Pete asked, wiping up the last of the syrup on his plate with his finger. He glanced up to meet two pairs of disapproving eyes. "What? It's real maple syrup. Do you know how many poor maple trees gave their lives so I could have this syrup?"
"They don't cut the trees down, Pete," Myka rolled her eyes, her tone that of a kindergarten teacher. "They take a peg and drill a small hole and tap the tree so that the sap runs out."
"And you don't think that hurts?" Pete asked cheekily, his finger taking another pass along the thick ceramic plate. "How'd you like it if someone tapped you? Oh, wait, that's already happening, isn't it?"
Pete doubled over with laughter at both the expression of annoyance on Myka's face and the clearly puzzled look on Helena's.
"Clearly I have missed some new denotation for that word," Helena stated questioningly.
Myka started to explain, her mouth opening and closing a few times, an embarrassed flush coloring her cheeks, only to be interrupted by Pete's loud guffawing. Finally, she simply picked up her phone, and after a few moments of scrolling, handed the phone to Helena.
Helena's dark eyes moved quickly over the screen. She glared dangerously at Pete. "You really are a Neanderthal, aren't you?"
Pete laughed again, although this time there was a trace of nervousness as Helena continued to shoot daggers his way. "Oh, come on, you two. You gotta admit, it was a little funny. Tap, tree, syrup, tap, Myka. I should shut up now, shouldn't I?"
"That would be a very wise decision on your part," Helena said warningly, the smile gracing her full lips holding more menace than mirth.
Myka leaned back against the red vinyl of the booth and smirked at Pete's discomfiture.
"Alrighty then, I say we get out of here and head back to Millville," Pete said, his voice just a tad higher than usual as he smiled tentatively at Helena, edging away from the table. "I'll just take care of the check."
"I would say that is the least you can do." As soon as Pete was out of earshot Helena began to chuckle, turning to meet Myka's amused smile. "I do believe I still make him a bit nervous."
"That's good. A little fear is a wonderful thing," Myka grinned, slipping her hand under the table to run it along Helena's thigh. "I can see why you liked it when I defended your honor. It's kind of sexy."
Helena's breathing stuttered for a moment as Myka's fingers traced along the inner seam of her pant leg. "Quite sexy, darling. However, if you don't stop doing that with your fingers, there will no doubt be many people besides dear Peter who will be aware of who is tapping whom."
"Only you could make a rather vulgar slang term sound classy," Myka laughed, rising from her seat to offer Helena her hand. The older woman slid elegantly out of the booth. "Let's drop Pete off and see if we can find any sign of our mad fiddler at the camp."
Camp Kanuga, Outside Millville, California
Helena wasn't sure what she had been expecting, but the collection of dilapidated buildings resembled more of a barracks than a place one would send one's child for a summer of fun and adventure. There was a rusted gate across the rutted dirt road that led to the camp entrance, secured by an equally rusted padlock and chain. Large "No Trespassing" signs hung on either post, the paint dull and chipped. Myka parked the SUV in front of the gate, bending down to examine the lock.
"This thing hasn't been opened in years, so that means our mysterious camper must have walked in," Myka said thoughtfully, her eyes scanning the ground for signs of recent footprints, but the earth was too hard-packed for any trace to remain.
"Over the top, then?" Helena asked, even as she placed one booted foot on a thick metal bar, grasping hold of the gate and in a single graceful leap, vaulting to the other side to land with a mute thud.
Myka stood in admiring wonder for a moment before following Helena's example and climbing to the other side of the fence. They walked in silence down the dirt lane, the ground hard as cement beneath their feet. The air was cold and damp, the clouds an endless flat plain of grayish-white wool. Helena pulled her leather coat tighter, cinching the belt around her waist and turning up the collar. She could smell the snow that she knew must be falling on Mt. Shasta, the scent of it mingling with the spicy aroma of the firs and pines that lined the road and shaded the cabins.
The buildings were little more than shacks, tin roofs pitted and rusted, the paint so faded that the color was now indistinguishable, a flat, lifeless gray all that remained. The smaller cabins formed a semi-circle around a larger building, or what had been a larger building. There was nothing left but the dark outline, drawn in ash and charcoal and the sooty debris of what remained of the roof. Myka stepped gingerly through the rubble, bending down to examine the ground at what had been the center of the building.
"This looks like where the fire started," she said, rubbing the white ash between her fingers. "It probably spread pretty quickly. It may have just been someone camping out here. He or she started a fire to keep warm and it got out of control."
"If that's true, darling, then why are none of the other buildings even singed? Aside from the gaping hole where this cabin used to be, nothing else shows the slightest sign of fire damage," Helena asked, her gaze sweeping around the grounds.
"Okay, so maybe he put it out?" Myka hypothesized, looking around for any source of water and seeing nothing, not even a hose. "Or not."
"These buildings are so old and ramshackle I'm surprised they're even standing," Helena stated, walking towards the nearest cabin. "Look at this wood. Rotted, termite ridden, a veritable tinderbox awaiting a spark."
"So, you're saying that whoever our firebug is, he had control of the fire," Myka said slowly, her eyes meeting Helena's as the implications set in.
"Yes. If I'm right about the lyre, and I truly believe that I am, then the person playing it has complete control over the flames. The fire literally dances to the tune being plucked on the strings. He can make it do anything he wishes, go anywhere he wishes," Helena responded. "The legend of the lyre says that as Nero played, it became imbued with all the corruption, all the moral decay of his court."
"He had his mother killed, didn't he?" Myka asked, lips thinned in an expression of distaste.
"Among others," Helena answered. "The Warehouse has been searching for the lyre for centuries. If I recall correctly, the last known sighting, for lack of a better word, was in London in September of 1666."
"The Great Fire of London: Samuel Pepys wrote about it in his diary. I remember reading it in high school," Myka mused, stepping through the doorway of the old cabin. "So no one has seen or heard of it since?"
"Rumors here and there, but nothing reputable upon which to rely," Helena confirmed with a smile, pleased at Myka's wealth of knowledge. She followed Myka inside, stepping carefully over the splintered doorframe.
As her eyes adjusted to the light, Helena's gaze was caught by a small, round object lying against the battered baseboard. She reached down and picked it up, rolling it gently between her fingers, her expression wistful.
"What is it?" Myka asked, stepping closer to see what the other woman held.
"A marble," Helena said softly. "Although it wasn't a common toy for a little girl, Christina loved marbles. I think it was the colors and patterns in the glass more than anything."
"May I ask you something?" Myka's voice was hesitant, her expression uncertain.
"Darling, you don't have to inquire as to whether you can ask me something," Helena chided gently, closing her fist around the marble and slipping it into her pocket. "You should know you may ask me anything."
There was a long pause and Helena could see Myka trying to formulate how to say the words. Finally, with a deep sigh, she asked quietly, "Who was Christina's father?"
Helena gave her a half-smile. "I'm afraid I don't know."
"You don't .you don't know who fathered your child?" Myka stammered, eyes wide with shock at Helena's answer.
"I don't actually know who her mother was either," Helena replied, stepping closer to take Myka's hand in her own, surprised at how cold her skin felt. "Goodness, darling, your hands are freezing. We should get back to the car."
"Wait a minute," Myka said, eyebrows almost to her hairline, her tone a little sharper than she intended. "What do you mean, you don't know who her mother was either?"
"I adopted Christina when she barely a week old," Helena explained, taking both Myka's hands between her own and rubbing them gently, willing the warmth back into them. "She was left on my brother's doorstep. Literally. You must understand, darling, that England in my day was a very different place. Poverty was overwhelming and rampant; there were thousands of orphans wandering the streets of London. There were few child labor laws and those that did exist were not enforced."
"I've read Oliver Twist," Myka responded, her thoughts clearly confused as she focused her gaze on the movement of Helena's hands.
"Ah, yes. Good old Charlie. He did paint quite the picture," Helena smiled fondly, her smile fading as she continued. "A very grim picture. The treatment of the poor was appalling, particularly women and children. You must understand, Victorian morality did not allow for unwed mothers. In fact, women were not supposed to possess any sexual feelings. And the laws passed by a government of old men created an incredibly harsh environment for women who found themselves in the family way with no husband. Men were given leave to father as many children as they liked with absolutely no consequences. The law laid all the burden on raising the child solely on the mother."
"So, you never got married? You adopted Christina?" Myka asked, biting her lip nervously. She could see the frost in the air as she exhaled, lingering in a cloud of moisture between them.
"Yes, I adopted Christina. I suspected at the time that perhaps my brother had some role in her conception, although of course he denied it. One of the maids in his house, a Gladys Rogers, suddenly quit one day. She was very young, a rather attractive girl, and my brother did have a roaming eye. Seven months later a baby appeared on the doorstep," Helena recalled, her expression softening as she spoke, the planes of her face shifting. "I took one look at her, her tiny hands bunched up into fists, a shock of black hair on her head, her eyes wide open and gazing fiercely at the world and I fell in love. Completely, hopelessly in love with her. I may not have given birth to her, but she was my daughter, my Christina."
Myka suddenly grasped the hands rubbing hers, entwining her fingers with Helena's and pulling the other woman close to her. Helena leaned her forehead against Myka's shoulder, overcome with the rush of memories. At length she raised her head, her dark eyes shining with tears. Myka lifted her hand and captured them one by one, her thumb raking gently across Helena's cheeks.
"I'm so sorry," Myka said tenderly. "I didn't mean to make you cry. I've just I've been curious but I didn't ask because I didn't want to upset you."
"You haven't upset me, darling. I want to share these things with you, but it's difficult to talk about. Losing Christina was the worst thing that has ever happened to me, and no matter how much time passes, or what I do, or where I go, that will never change. I miss her, every moment of every day, but I have realized that I must go on with my life. For a very long time I wasn't certain that was true. I wasn't sure that I wanted to go on, that I could bear a world without her in it. But now I know that I can bear it, that I can go forward with my life.
"And no, I never married, Myka," Helena continued. Despite the tumult of emotion coursing through her mind, a warm glow washed over her as she saw the tension leave Myka's face at her words. "My parents, of course, tried to arrange for a suitable husband for me, but I would have none of it. I know that my mother was horribly disappointed in me. I was far from the proper lady for whom she had so hoped. Still, I couldn't contemplate spending my life with someone I didn't love, someone I might not even like. In truth, I had never met anyone with whom I would even consider marriage. Until now."
Helena watched as her words finally registered in Myka's brain, watched as her mouth formed a perfect "o", her eyes as wide as tea-saucers. She knew that she had crossed a line, that these were words that she couldn't take back, and yet, she couldn't manage even an inkling of regret. Whatever happened, she was not going to lose this time by not playing the game. Cards on the table, all her chips in, winner take all. Anything less wasn't worthy of this love she felt. Wasn't worthy of this woman she loved.
A shy, sweet, breathtaking smile slowly spread across Myka's face. The frigid air that surrounded them became infused with a rush of warmth as she pulled Helena to her, sliding her arms around Helena's waist and pressing her body firmly against her own. She tilted her head down and brushed her lips once, twice, three times across Helena's mouth, the barest of caresses, her nose nuzzling gently along the elegant line of Helena's jaw.
With her lips pressed against the smooth skin of Helena's cheek, Myka asked softly, "Did you just propose to me?"
Helena laughed, burying her face in the thick fall of Myka's hair, the fragrance of her shampoo and the faint, lingering scent of smoke tickling her nose. "It is possible that I might have suggested that at some point in the future it's something we could consider doing." Helena admitted, amazed at the sudden sense of terror that gripped her; terror not at her own answer but at what Myka's response might be.
"If I had, in fact, suggested that we might, in the future, contemplate making that kind of commitment, would you be amenable to such an offer?" Helena asked, trying to keep her tone level and matter-of-fact and failing miserably.
"In the future? Would I think about considering your suggestion that we might contemplate that kind of commitment?" Myka grinned, pulling back to meet Helena's eyes. "In other words, when you finally make up your mind that I'm not going anywhere and that you absolutely deserve to be loved like this and ask me to marry you, will I?"
Helena's breath left her in one gasp, the cloud of frost rising like steam into the air. In Myka's eyes there was no mockery, no teasing, only sincerity and love. The filthy cabin, the lingering scent of mildew and damp and the faint whisper of smoke all faded away. For just a moment, there was no artifact to locate, no mad arsonist sending music and flames dancing through the winter nights. There was just the two of them and Helena felt anew the miracle of it all. Somehow, in the mad, meandering workings of the universe, she had lost everything she held dear, only to find the one thing she had ever needed. The irony of it did not escape her.
"Will you?" Helena whispered, stunned by the weight of what was happening, by the import of these few words. The surrealness of the situation slammed into her, knocking the air from her lungs. They had come here looking for clues that would lead them to Nero's lyre. How they had ended up like this, a few inches separating them, the promise of a lifetime balanced precariously in their hands was more than she could absorb right now.
"Helena, when you're ready, ask me. Then I'll say yes," Myka said solemnly, the hint of a dimple appearing in her cheek as she continued, "Of course, we'll have to move to Massachusetts. Or Vermont. There's also Iowa, but somehow, I can't picture you in the Hawkeye State. Way too much corn."
"I love you." Helena sighed, blinking rapidly in an attempt to stem the flood of tears building up behind her eyelids.
"I know," Myka said just as softly. "I love you, too. I just need for you to believe it."
"I'm trying. It may take me a while. Can you be patient with me, my love?" Helena asked, eyes closed as she leaned against Myka's shoulder again.
"Always," Myka promised.
They stood in the silence, the chill of the air beginning to seep in under the thickness of coats. Helena shivered as a gust of wind barreled through the small room.
"We should get out of here," Myka urged, tugging Helena's hand and drawing her outside. Above them, the sky had grown darker, the clouds so thick and low that it seemed one had only to reach up a hand and pull them down. "It's going to start snowing. We should get Pete and get back to the hotel before it settles in. Hopefully, Claudia has found some connection."
They trudged back to the SUV, the wind sharp and bitter against the bare skin of their faces. As they climbed back over the fence the first flakes of snow tumbled to the ground. They quickly climbed in the truck and headed back towards Millville. They didn't see the figure that emerged from the shadow of the cabin they recently vacated to stand watching, motionless and silent, a grim, contemplative smile on his face.
A/N: The status of women and the poor in Victorian England is well-documented. Laws of the 19th century were incredibly punitive towards unwed mothers, as was the opinion of society in general. Given these commonly held beliefs, it has been somewhat inconceivable to me that Helena would have been an unmarried mother. Middle class women of her era simply did not have children out of wedlock, and if they did, faced terrible censure and public ostracizing. Given that by the 1890's H.G. Wells was a successful novelist, despite the assertion on the show that Helena's brother was the actual "face" of the author, I cannot believe that she could have had a child out of wedlock and been able to continue her collaboration with her brother.
I focus on the out of wedlock aspect of this because at no time in the canon portion of the show was a marriage or husband for Helena discussed. In fact, on several occasions, the opportunity arose to include the reference to a husband: in "When and Where", when Helena was telling Claudia about the murder of her daughter and referred to herself as a "single mother, in today's parlance"; in "Buried", when Pete is mocking Helena, Claudia and Myka as possible sources of information on relationships, she merely mentions that, "many of my lovers have been men", not "I was married, you know" or anything to that effect. Given this lack of any reference to marriage, and also, given the extreme taboo against unwed motherhood in Victorian times, it seemed more realistic and reasonable to write Helena as an adoptive mother. Thousands of children were adopted during this time. In fact, there were no real adoption laws in England until the 1920's. I also felt that in some ways it gives added depth to her characterization.
Route 44, outside Redding, California
By the time they picked up Pete in Millville, the snow was falling steadily, mingling with the ash coating the ground, covering the devastation, a white sheet pulled up over the face of the deceased, hiding the grim face of death. Pete's face was flushed, although whether from the cold air or triumph remained to be seen. He climbed into the back seat, bringing with him the scent of smoke and snow.
"So, did you find out anything from young Master Kevin?" Helena inquired, turning in the passenger seat with a curious look.
Pete grinned at her with that self-satisfied smirk that seemed to be parceled out to all men at birth, along with an over-abundance of testosterone and the occasionally endearing belief that the universe did, in fact, revolve around them. "Yup," he replied, his lips making a popping sound on the last syllable. "Kev and I bonded a little over Halo and I managed to get him to open up to old Uncle Pete."
"And what precisely did he share with 'Uncle' Pete?" Myka asked, her gaze in the rearview mirror fondly amused.
"He saw the guy playing the lyre," Pete pronounced with great aplomb. "Well, actually he said he saw a guy playing some weird looking harp, but either way, he saw him. He spent most of the afternoon with his grandmother, helping her finish making cookies for her Sunday School class. But after dinner, he was bored out of his mind. He'd left his iPod at home, and his grandparents were watching The Lawrence Welk show, which by the way, I had no idea was still on T.V.. Did you know they still show it? I remember watching it with my grandparents when I was a kid."
"Pete, focus. What did he see?" Myka reminded him, shaking her head at his ability to wander so far afield in so short a time.
"Right, anyway, so he snuck out onto the roof," Pete resumed, only to be interrupted by Helena's faint mutter.
"What?" Pete asked, leaning forward to hear her better.
"I said, sneaked, not snuck," Helena repeated, clearly a little chagrined at having been heard. "I'm sorry. At times, I have an appalling urge to correct grammar. I assure you, it will not happen again."
Pete simply rolled his eyes at her and continued his story, ignoring Myka's quiet chuckle. "Yeah, so he sneaked out onto the roof from the upstairs window. That side of the house faces the church and he could see that the lights were on inside the sanctuary. The windows on the side of the church alternated, regular glass with stained glass, and Kev was watching when he saw this guy. At first he thought it was just somebody practicing something for the service Sunday, but then he realized that the guy was walking around, kinda strumming the harp, as he calls it, and all of the sudden, it got brighter and brighter inside the church."
"Did he tell his grandparents?" Myka asked, her eyes intent on maneuvering the SUV along the snow-coated road.
"Not exactly," Pete hedged.
"How does one 'not exactly' tell one's grandparents that the church next to their home is burning?" Helena's eyebrows climbed her forehead as she gazed accusingly at Pete.
Pete held his hands up in a gesture of surrender. "Hey, don't glare at me! I'm not the one who didn't tell. The kid was scared. He had been told to never climb out on the roof and he didn't want to get in trouble. By the time he got back in and downstairs the church was completely engulfed and it was spreading towards his grandparents. They dragged him out of the house and the fire trucks came and everything was crazy. It wasn't until after you two talked to his granny and she asked him if he saw anyone did he admit that he might have been where he shouldn't have been."
"Well, given the circumstances, quite understandable, I suppose," Helena agreed. "Did he get a good look at the man or was it merely an outline that he saw?"
"I asked him that. He said that at first he could just see the shape of him and the harp ," Pete answered smugly, only to be interrupted as Helena again muttered softly.
"Huh?" Pete grunted, moving forward some more, most of his upper body now positioned between the two front seats.
"I said, lyre. It's a lyre, not a harp. Distinctly different shape, different tonal quality, arrangement of strings," Helena explained, her voice dying out at the annoyed expression on Pete's face.
"You said you wouldn't do that again," he reminded her, emphasizing his point with a small poke to her left shoulder with his index finger.
"Quite right. My apologies. I don't know what came over me," Helena said contritely.
"Honey? Just ignore the grammatical issues and the whole harp versus lyre thing and let him tell us what our arsonist looks like, okay?" Myka asked sweetly, one hand leaving the wheel to gently clasp one of Helena's, the warm smile on her face taking away any sting the words might have held.
"Honey?! Honey?" Pete laughed loudly, his expression teasing.
"Yes, I called my girlfriend, 'honey'. Feel free to harass me about it later," Myka ranted a bit, face a trifle thunderous as her patience reached its limit, "but for God's sake, just tell us what the kid saw, will you?"
Pete looked rather put out at having his fun so summarily restricted, but, finally, he continued, "As I was saying before 'honey' here interrupted me again, Kevin said he saw the shape first, but then, as he was turning around to climb back in the window, the light from the flames lit up the inside of the church and he could see the guy's face. He didn't recognize him, but he said he was tall and he had dark hair, kind of long in front, so it hung down over his forehead. Dark hoodie and jeans. That was all he saw."
"Did Kevin have any idea how old the man was?" Helena asked, a thoughtful expression on her face.
"Kinda old, he said," Pete answered, sliding back a bit to lean against the seat. "Of course, when you're eleven, twenty looks kinda old. By the way, I talked to Claudia earlier. No joy on her end so far, but she said she'd keep digging. And keep Artie off our backs as long as she could."
"I had a feeling she'd have a hard time finding anything. There are simply too many names to sort through. Fifty years worth from the camp and the high school. I feel badly leaving her to deal with Artie. It's kind of strange that he hasn't called us." Myka replied, a look of guilt taking up residence in her green eyes.
"Actually, he has," Pete admitted, giving Myka a smile that was part apology, part sympathy. "Remember, you said I should take the Farnsworth with me last night? Well, Artie called around five this morning. Apparently he forgot the time difference, or he just didn't care. I'm leaning towards the not caring, but anyway, he called. I filled him in on what we'd found so far, which was very little and promised we'd call tonight."
"We had breakfast this morning. Why didn't you mention that you'd talked to Artie?" Myka asked, puzzled.
"I was sound asleep when he called and I was a little out of it. He asked me what I was doing and I said I was sleeping and that it was only five in the morning and he asked where you were and I said I was pretty sure you were sleeping, too and he suggested I go wake you up and I kinda said something like, 'I'm not waking them up', and Artie said, 'them' and then he sort of grunted and I just figured I wouldn't mention it," Pete babbled, one long sentence in one long breath. "Sorry."
"Nothing to be sorry about. You're not the one being a giant weenie. You can keep the Farnsworth tonight, too." Myka took a sharp right, parking the SUV in front of a Chinese restaurant down the street from their hotel. "We should get some take out, that way we don't have to go back out in this weather later."
"Sounds like a plan, Stan," Pete agreed, zipping his dark jacket higher as he eased open the back door. "I'll go grab a menu and then we can order. Back in a flash."
Forty minutes later they pulled into the parking lot of the hotel, the now white pavement scored with a few sets of tire tracks, textured indentations already filling with snow. It was barely three p.m. and yet the sky was dark, the clouds settled snugly along the horizon. Aside from asking Myka to pick something for her off the menu, Helena had been silent since they first stopped at the restaurant, her face pensive.
Sitting cross-legged on the bed, cartons of Chinese food between them and Pete sprawled in the arm chair near the window, Myka watched Helena's face, concern growing in her at the other woman's continued reticence. "Hey, you. Penny for your thoughts?"
It took a moment for Helena to respond. Finally she blinked slowly, her unfocused gaze centering on Myka's worried face. "I'm sorry, darling. Really. I'm afraid I rather lost track of time. I was just trying to work something out. I may have an idea of who our lyricist might be."
Pete paused mid-chew. "Who?" he asked, around a mouthful of General Tso's chicken.
"I've been attempting to determine some connection between the fires at the camp, the high school and the church. Because, although much of the town burned as well, the fire actually had its start in the church. Therefore, it seems safe to assume that the church itself was the intended target and that the resultant spread of the fire to the remainder of the town was perhaps secondary. We've been working under the presumption that whoever is starting the fires has some personal grudge against the camp and the school. So, why not further that hypothesis by assuming that the church was also the focus of that same grudge?" Helena paused, dark eyes fixed with interest on Myka's face, watching as the implication of her words flitted across Myka's face.
"And since the church and the town were the last fire, it makes sense that the church was actually the culminating act," Myka posed, her words meeting with a quick nod from Helena's dark head.
"Darling, do remember when we were speaking with the Reverend Shaw? He mentioned that when he first came to the church he had a head of hair as dark as mine? He has a very distinctive cut to his hair, which I believe has less to do with attention to fashion than the way it grows, falling across his forehead. Now, we have the church camp, the local school and the church itself, all connected in some way and we have an arsonist with a shock of dark hair covering his face. I wonder if Reverend Shaw has a son?" Helena suggested, idly twisting a strand of Lo Mein around her fork.
Pete reached into the pocket of the jacket he had slung over the back of the chair and pulled out the Farnsworth. "I'll call Claudia and see what she can find out about Rev. Shaw and his family. Kevin didn't recognize the guy and since the kid goes to church with his grandparents every Sunday, I doubt that this guy lives around here. Kevin would've seen him."
"Hey, Claudia. Is 'you know who' around?" Pete asked the black and white image on the screen.
"Nope. Mrs. F showed up and dragged him off about two hours ago. Don't know why. Don't wanna know why. Just glad it wasn't me, you know?" Claudia answered in a pseudo-whisper. "What's up?"
"We need some info. Plug in the name Reverend William Shaw in Millville. See if he has any kids and whatever else you can dig up, okay?" Pete requested as Myka and Helena began to gather up the empty food containers.
"Gotcha. Give me a sec," Claudia replied, the sound of her fingers flying over the keyboard of her computer coming through the Farnsworth. Less than two minutes later she had the information. "Okay. Got it. William Shaw, aged 71. Wife Martha died in August of 2008. Has one son, John Michael, aged 28."
"Did the son go to Foothills High?" Pete asked, a slow grin spreading across his face.
"Affirmative, amigo. Although, it doesn't look like he graduated," Claudia supplied. "He was supposed to in 2000, but he's not on the official list. And after 2001, he just disappears. No work record, no W-2's, no checking account, no nothing. He just drops off the grid."
"Thanks, Claude, you're the best. We'll call back tomorrow. Keep Artie occupied, will ya?" Pete applauded, smiling widely. "Tell him I'll give him a buzz before I go to bed. It's snowing like hell here, so we're in for the night. We'll head out tomorrow and see what we can find."
"Gotcha. Give Myka and H.G. a hug for me," Claudia smirked, her image fading suddenly as the screen went black.
"You are brilliant, you know?"" Myka said quietly, slipping her hand into Helena's, a proud smile touching her lips.
"We're brilliant, darling. We. I just hope that we're brilliant enough to find the prodigal son before he wreaks his final vengeance."
Warehouse 13, Univille, South Dakota
They had been wandering the aisles of the warehouse for nearly an hour now. Occasionally, Mrs. Fredric would pause before an artifact and scroll through the archive record, her expression, as always, inscrutable. He opened his mouth several times to ask her what she was looking for, only to be met with her patented death glare. After the first few times, he stopped, merely following her obediently as she perused the warehouse collection. He had become so used to the silence that when she did finally speak, he jerked a bit in surprise.
"You must let it go, Arthur," she pronounced firmly, her expression as enigmatic as her words.
"Let what go, Mrs. Fredric?" Artie asked as politely as he could manage, which, on a good day, and this wasn't, would never satisfy Emily Post.
"I recommended, the Regents voted, and Mr. Kasan decided, Arthur, that she can be trusted. Do you honestly believe that we would have allowed her back to the Warehouse as an agent if we thought she was a threat in any way? You're being remarkably arrogant, Arthur, even for you, in maintaining that you somehow know better than we do regarding Agent Wells," Mrs. Fredric informed him, her tone offering no quarter to argue.
He argued anyway. He ranted. He accused.
After listening to his diatribe for five minutes, Mrs. Fredric held up her hand, her voice as sharp and stinging as the snap of a whip. "Arthur. Stop. Now. This is not a discussion. This is not a conversation. This is me telling you that you must get past your mistrust of Agent Wells before you do irreparable harm to the warehouse."
"The only irreparable harm is letting that woman have access to the warehouse. The only way she should be here is as a part of the collection," Artie ranted, his face taking on a vaguely purple hue. "She's dangerous and now she's corrupted Myka "
Before he could persist, Mrs. Fredric snapped, "Arthur! Stop! If you continue in this behavior, you risk losing Agent Bering."
"That's what I'm trying to say! That woman has her in her clutches and Myka is too naïve to see her for what she is," Artie was practically yelling at this point, his voice echoing against the tall shelves.
"No, Arthur. You are wrong. Completely and entirely wrong," Mrs. Fredric said wearily. "You've claimed that we don't know why McPherson chose her, that we don't know what his plan was, but you are wrong about that as well, Arthur. We do know. The Regents have known all along. He chose Miss Wells because of the vest. He knew about it, knew that he needed it to get into the Escher vault."
"We only have her word for that," Artie interrupted again, only to be silenced once more by a look.
"Arthur, the woman was encased in bronze for over a hundred years. How, exactly, do you think she managed to plot with McPherson?" Mrs. Fredric asked, her question rhetorical as she moved on quickly. "She was supposed to steal Rasputin's robe from the vault, Arthur, a robe that protects the wearer from death. Once she brought him the robe, he could come and go in the warehouse with no fear. Go anywhere with no fear. She did take the robe, because she did not trust him, Arthur. He freed her from the bronzer, hid her away and tried to convince her that his plan to sell artifacts to the highest bidder was a noble one."
"If that's true, why didn't she just tell us? Why not call and say, 'hey, this guy's plotting world destruction. You might want to come get him'?" Artie scoffed, a look of disdain on his florid face.
"She had no reason to trust us, either. Agent Bering and Agent Lattimer did go to London to capture her. Would you rush back to be re-encased in bronze, Arthur?" Mrs. Fredric asked, again clearly rhetorically as she continued without waiting for a reply. "I am finished discussing this. I'm telling you, it's time to move past your feelings of mistrust for Agent Wells. And as for Agent Bering, I think you'll find that she's in love, Arthur. Not tricked. Not conned. Not mislead. Simply in love with Agent Wells. They are not the first agents to become romantically involved over the centuries, nor will they be the last.
"And the more you push Agent Bering, the farther away she moves, Arthur. If you force her to choose between the warehouse and the woman she loves, you must know what her choice will be? Move on, Arthur, before you lose not one, but two good agents."
Mrs. Fredric turned abruptly and began to walk back down the aisle. She paused and, glancing back, said, "They're looking for Nero's fiddle, or lyre, as it were."
It took Artie a few moments to process the change in the conversation. "Nero's lyre? Are you sure?"
Mrs. Fredric looked askance at him. "Yes, Arthur, I am sure."
"I guess it makes sense, although the lyre hasn't been seen since the 1600's. I'll let them know," Artie replied, moving at a slow trot to keep up as Mrs. Fredric walked briskly through the aisles.
"They already know."
"What do you mean, they already know?" Artie puffed, the pace far faster than he was accustomed to.
"Agent Wells realized what it was yesterday." Mrs. Fredric stated matter-of-factly. "They've been looking into it all day."
"Why the hell didn't they tell me that they'd identified the artifact?" Artie asked irritably, clearly out of breath as Mrs. Fredric rounded a corner and started down another aisle.
"Because, Arthur, you would have dismissed it out of hand simply based solely on who had identified it," Mrs. Fredric replied, as if explaining to a small child. A small, bad-tempered child. "Let go of your animosity, Arthur. The only one it's truly hurting is you."
Artie closed his eyes for a moment, drawing in a deep breath. When he opened them, ready to once more do battle, Mrs. Fredric was gone and he was alone amid the myriad aisles of the warehouse.
Camp Kanuga, Outside Millville, California
He lay on his back on the floor of the old cabin, the sleeping bag cinched tightly around his body, and watched as the snow fell past the window, the cracks in the panes creating a kaleidoscope of swirling white. His body was still, but his brain was a maelstrom of activity as he considered, discarded, reconsidered, again discarded a thousand different ideas, a million different permutations to his plan.
They knew about the lyre. He had never imagined that anyone would know about the lyre and yet the two women had stood not twenty feet from where he lay and talked about it as if it were the most commonplace thing in the world. The darker one, the one with the sexy British accent, she had spoken about the lyre as if it were alive, a fugitive hiding from justice, but to him it was justice, the only real justice in a world full of platitudes and false offers of redemption.
There was no redemption to be found, nothing left but the cleansing flames. He had failed before, failed to demonstrate to his father that his whole life had been a lie, but this time, he would succeed. He had seen the two women together, seen them through this same cracked window as they kissed; he had heard the offer of absolution, of love.
There was no absolution. There was no love. There was nothing but the purification of the fire. Perhaps when he showed his father that the faith he cleaved to was all calumny and deceit, he would show them, too. Show them that those promises of forever were little more than ashes in their mouths.
The pale yellow glow of streetlights glaring off the thick layer of snow flooded the pale walls of the hotel room as the light seeped in around the stiff edges of the floor length curtains. Myka watched, her head resting against the silken skin of Helena's thigh, as the gold washed over the taut planes of Helena's stomach, the skin beneath her lips and tongue rich and creamy as butter.
They had decided weeks ago to keep the two aspects of their lives separate, had learned quickly the need for an impenetrable barrier dividing their jobs and the fragile thing that had sprouted and grown between them. They might have been successful in holding their own needs as bay, had it not been for the lingering cadences of the conversation at the camp. The words colored every lingering look, every accidental brush of fingers, every mundane, pedestrian comment, blurring the lines between what they did and who they were.
Now, just for tonight, the barrier had been breached, and Myka allowed the feel of Helena's skin under her cheek to cleanse her mind of everything but the woman lying beneath her. She could feel Helena's fingers tracing the seashell curve of her ear, slipping along the fine, soft hair of her temple, smoothing over the tender skin of her eyelids. She didn't need to look up through the wash of golden light to know that Helena's eyes were closed, that she was learning, as a blind man would, the contours of her lover's face, the corners of her lips turned up in a melancholy smile.
Myka lay still, allowing Helena to complete her study, before slowing turning her head so that her lips just brushed along the satin skin beneath them. Pushing up on her elbows, Myka drew a detailed, intricate map up the length of Helena's leg with her lips and tongue, tracing down to the small indentation behind Helena's knee and then making her way north, lazily, meandering, following a path she already knew by heart. The brush of springy hairs against her forehead slowed her, and she mapped the last few inches cautiously, careful not to miss even a centimeter of creamy skin, as her tongue moved to tangle in soft, damp curls.
Against her closed eyelids, the golden swath of light continued to glow, as she painted her mouth and chin with liquid silk. Helena's fingers were in her hair, strong, fiercely holding on, urging her closer. Her hips moved in a rhythm that seemed to match the splay of light across the bed; languid, undulating, growing faster, pushing harder against Myka's mouth. Myka opened her eyes, her gaze sweeping up the glorious length of Helena's body, watching with the same wordless wonder she always felt as waves of sensation overtook the older woman.
Myka wrapped her arms around Helena's hips, her hands slipping under the other woman to grasp the firm, rounded globes of her ass, her fingers kneading, pulling Helena to her, attempting to control the now almost frantic thrust of her hips against Myka's attentive mouth. Myka dragged her full bottom lip across the raised bundle of nerves, moving it slowly, torturously back and forth, her arms stilling all but the most determined thrust of Helena's hips. Taking Helena's clit between her lips, she swirled her tongue around it, lost in the feel of tender flesh, and in the taste and smell of the woman she loved.
Myka didn't stop as Helena's orgasm swept over her, her mind absently hoping that the walls were thick enough and that no one would hear the cry that Helena couldn't quite manage to muffle with the pillow, even as she twirled her tongue in one last circle, drawing out the last shudder from Helena's body.
"I love you." Helena said softly into the darkened room, her fingers still caught in Myka's hair, nails scraping lightly along her scalp. "And before you say it, I know you love me, too. At least, right here, at this moment, I'm very sure of it."
"I plan on making you sure of it for many, many years," Myka answered just as quietly, rubbing her cheek slowly against the warm, slightly sticky skin of Helena's thigh.
"Come here," Helena asked, her hands tugging at Myka's hair, urging her to move up beside her on the bed.
Myka went reluctantly, unwilling to relinquish the feel and smell and taste of her make-shift pillow. Languidly, she rose up on her knees, crawling up Helena's body, her lips nipping lightly at the skin of her abdomen and chest, before she settled tightly against Helena's side. Before she could speak, Helena had shifted, moving with feline grace to push Myka on her back and straddle her hips, the weight of her body holding her in place as she bent and captured Myka's lips, her mouth impossibly warm and soft.
The skin under Helena's hands was flawless, her fingers tracing along the slope of collarbone, down the slightly raised line of sternum, between the rounded swells of flesh. They skirted the curving edge of each breast, their touch so light that it raised goose bumps, the resulting shiver just visible in the slender body under her. Her lips explored as well, nipping gently down the sensitive skin of Myka's throat, pressing open mouthed kisses along the same line her fingers had traced, her tongue circling quickly hardening nipples.
Drawing one, then the other into the moist, slick warmth of her mouth, Helena indulged herself, opening her lips to surround the whole areola, her tongue flicking the pebbled nub, teeth scraping gently. From the noises coming from Myka, she knew that the younger woman had no real objections to her ongoing ministrations.
Myka gasped loudly as that wonderfully warm mouth closed around her nipple, encircling it, sucking gently, coaxing it, teasing it with tongue and teeth. Helena's hand rose to Myka's other breast, slender fingers teasing, barely ghosting across her skin, careful to not leave it neglected.
Myka brought her hands up to tangle in the thickness of silken black hair, urging Helena closer, her back arching up at the same moment to press her breast nearer to that seeking mouth. Helena seemed to find no necessity to rush, those amazing lips now moving at a leisurely pace back and forth between her breasts, sucking less than gently on her hardened nipples, scraping across them with her front teeth, eliciting soft groans.
Myka's thighs parted wider, allowing Helena's leg to slip between, the warm satin of her skin now just brushing against her. Helena could feel the wetness as Myka moved her hips, pushing up and then back in a slow rhythm, the smooth skin of her thigh quickly becoming slick with moisture.
Lowering her other hand between their bodies, Helena raised her thigh to allow her better access, her fingers sliding against warm, wet flesh, moving unerringly down, as three slim fingers slipped inside Myka, the heel of her hand pressed firmly against her clit, the weight of her thigh coming back to rest, increasing the pressure. Myka's hips surged up against her hand, her back arching, her head tilted back into the softness of the pillow.
Helena again focused her attention on now swollen, bruised looking nipples, her touch no longer gentle, rolling them between the sharpness of her front teeth, each bite drawing a hiss from Myka, her hands still tangled in Helena's hair. Myka's movements were becoming faster and more erratic, and Helena raised herself up on her other hand to give added leverage, as her own hips took up the same staggered rhythm, Myka's thigh now pressing up against her own wet center.
Helena felt Myka's fingers digging into the flesh of her hips as she urged Helena closer, faster, harder. Helena knew that she would probably have slender appendage shaped bruises tomorrow, but she didn't care.
She could feel her own orgasm building, the slide of her clit against the smooth skin of Myka's leg torturously pleasant, each surge forward of her hips sliding her fingers in and out of Myka in a slow, steady motion. She could feel as each thrust in became tighter around her fingers, and the convulsive grasp of Myka's hands on her hips told her that her lover was just as close.
"Fuck," Myka groaned. Her head was thrown back at an uncomfortable angle, her eyes closed, breath now coming in punctuated gasps. Helena felt Myka tighten convulsively around her fingers, that slender body shuddering under hers. Helena's breathing wasn't any better, her skin, along with Myka's, ruddy with exertion, coated with a sheen of moisture.
Helena lowered her head, trying unsuccessfully to catch her breath, her hand still trapped between Myka's thighs. Finally, her heart slowed enough that the wave of lightheadedness passed, Helena slid back, gently pulling her fingers free.
She rolled over to the side, seeing the steady rise and fall of Myka's chest as her breathing began to return to normal. Placing a hand lightly on Myka's breastbone, Helena propped herself up on her other hand. "You are so very beautiful and I am so very hopelessly in love with you."
"Ditto." Myka said a trifle breathlessly.
"Ditto?" Helena laughed. "I make a heartfelt declaration of love and all I get from you is 'ditto'?"
"You're lucky you got that," Myka breathed, smiling and reaching up to cup Helena's cheek. "After that orgasm, you're fortunate I'm able to breathe, much less speak."
"Oh, well, as long as you have a good excuse for your lackadaisical response," Helena teased, dark eyes sparkling in the faint golden light.
"Lackadaisical? Seriously?" Myka challenged, a smirk on her lips as her eyes narrowed. She moved suddenly, pushing Helena on to her back. "I'll show you lackadaisical, baby."
"I was hoping you'd say that," Helena chuckled, before the feel of Myka's mouth and hands robbed her of speech.
Helena stared at her reflection in the mirror, the brush in her hand combing through the dark silk of her hair, the light catching here and there, turning onyx and ebony to sable and obsidian, flowing around her face, settling like the finest stole along the collar of her shirt. The sound of a hair dryer, the dull drone of the machine a quarter of a pitch higher than the thrum of the heater, came through the half-open bathroom door. She'd woken first this morning, eyes opening in the pale opalescence of dawn to the comforting weight of Myka's arm around her waist. She'd lain there for some time, listening to the hum of the heater and the faint sounds of the snow plows as they made their way slowly down the street, the harsh rasps of metal against concrete sending a shiver along her spine. Myka had sighed in her sleep, a sigh of contentment, her arm tugging Helena closer, her breath ticking the fine hairs along Helena's neck, the feel of soft skin against soft skin enveloping her.
The bed was warm and comfortable, redolent with a mixed roué of industrial bleach from the sheets, the spice and flowers of their perfumes and the salty, intoxicating scent of sex. She was wrapped tightly in the arms of the woman she loved; she had a job, the glimmering promise of friends. Not for the first time since she'd been freed from her bronze prison, she realized that she had everything she had ever hoped to have. She was happy. Happy.
As the word rolled through her brain like a cannonball in a metal drum, a sense of panic crept steadily across her chest, sending her heart into paroxysm, squeezing the air from her lungs, a light sheen of sweat settling like morning dew along her skin. She gently slid away from Myka's slumbering form, slipping from the bed to stand shivering in the middle of the floor, her eyes frantically scanning the room, her first instinct to find her clothes and get out of there, get as far away as she could.
Helena had picked up her pants, had her bra and underwear clutched tightly in her other hand when Myka sighed again, the sound resonating in the quiet room as the younger woman turned in her sleep and sank back into the covers, a sweet smile just touching her lips. Helena froze, the utter ludicrousness of what she had been contemplating hitting her like a freight train. The clothes fell from suddenly lifeless fingers, her breath now coming in short, harsh gasps. She'd made it to the bathroom before the sobs came, the deep, almost guttural sounds muffled by the pounding of the water against the Plexiglas door of the shower.
She'd stood under the hard spray until the skin of her hands and feet looked like the raisins their cook Rosie used to sprinkle in her scones, shriveled and wrinkled; stood until the sobs turned to whimpers and finally, to stuttered hiccups that shook her body with small, random tremors. Stood until the door of the shower slid open and strong arms circled her waist from behind, pulling her close, pulling her down to the shower floor, her body cushioned across a plush lap as a soft voice murmured in her ear, repeating over and over words of comfort, words of absolution for all her imagined sins.
Myka hadn't asked for an explanation, had merely held her until the tears stopped, until her breathing returned to normal, then drew her to her feet and took the wash cloth, running it lightly over her skin, along her arms, over her chest, down her legs, her touch tender. Finally, Myka had gently washed her hair, long fingers massaging her scalp. Watching the suds flow down the drain, Helena could almost envision all the detritus of her life washing away as well: all the anger, all the undiluted rage, all the sorrow and grief and shame and guilt, sloughing off her, disappearing down a dark well. Almost. Some of the stains on her soul were far too indelible to remove that easily. If at all.
Now she bent closer to the mirror, fingers touching lightly along the faint lines that creased the skin around her eyes, probing the slight puffiness left by her tears. The sound of the hair dryer stopped and suddenly Myka was there behind her, arms once more slipping around her, that exquisite face smiling lovingly at her over her shoulder.
"Nobody will notice. You can barely see it," Myka reassured her, her eyes and her voice so gentle that Helena felt a returning rush of moisture, dark eyes welling with as yet unshed tears.
Helena blinked rapidly, one hand coming up to roughly brush away the few drops that escaped, her jaw clenching tightly as she attempted to get her emotions under control. Myka didn't move, just stood quietly and held her, waiting for Helena to regain her composure.
"I'm sorry, darling. I seem to be rather a mess this morning," Helena said ruefully, shaking her head.
"No, you're not. You're not a mess, Helena," Myka argued, eyes blazing with sincerity, her words spilling out like water from a broken pipe. "You're amazing. I realize that we haven't really talked about it, but I know that things have been unsettling for you. Very unsettling. You spent a hundred years with nothing but your own thoughts and then suddenly you're debronzed, dragged out of the Warehouse by some egomaniacal criminal who tried to use you to steal artifacts. You're hunted like you're a criminal. And then there's Artie not trusting you and a world you don't know and a century's worth of changes to try and understand. Sweetheart, the fact that you're not permanently curled up in a ball somewhere is astonishing. I can't even begin to imagine what it's been like for you. So if you need to break down and cry, or throw things, or scream and curse, or just talk, I understand and you shouldn't ever feel like you need to explain."
Helena sighed, turning in Myka's arms to bury her face in the elegant curve of Myka's neck. For a long time, neither of them spoke. Finally, Helena raised her head, her expression as unguarded as Myka had ever seen it. "If I was on speaking terms with God, I'd offer Him my undying gratitude for you. As it is, I'll just have to thank you for loving me. I promise you, I will always try my very best to deserve your love."
A slow smile spread across Myka's face as the import of what Helena hadn't said registered. "You never have to do anything to deserve it. It just is. But I'm very glad you finally got it through that thick English skull of yours that you do deserve it."
"Thick English skull?! Bloody Americans, you wrote the book on stubbornness. Talk about pigheaded, obstinate " Helena began, her rant sputtering out in the face of Myka's laughter. "Didn't anyone ever tell you not to tease a poor, fragile woman?"
"Yeah, you're about as fragile as Pete," Myka chuckled, tilting her head forward to capture Helena's lips in a tender kiss. "Speaking of Pete, we'd better get going while there's still some food left at the Black Bear."
Myka smiled and released her, crossing the room to rummage through her suitcase for a sweater. Helena watched her for a moment, feeling as a sailor must when the sea calms, the deck beneath her feet no longer listing violently to starboard. She picked up her coat, checking her pocket for the room key just as a loud knock sounded on the door.
Helena opened the door to find Pete standing there, hesitating a moment as she ushered him in. His expression was more than a trifle sheepish as he handed Myka the Farnsworth. "Sorry to interrupt, but, um, well, Artie just called and he wants you to call him back."
"Oh, joy," Myka muttered, a frown immediately creasing her forehead. "Please tell me this isn't one of those 'Khrushchev at the U.N.' kind of mornings."
"He's actually pretty calm. Almost creepy calm, you know?" Pete replied with a sympathetic smile.
"That's worse. I'd rather have him ranting and raving. I know it isn't much, but I crave consistency," Myka complained, taking a deep breath, her fingers hovering over the controls for the Farnsworth as she met Helena's eyes. "Why don't you and Pete go and get some breakfast? I'll be along in a few minutes." Before Helena could argue, Myka continued," I'll be fine. Honest. Besides, if Artie's going to be mean, I'd rather it was just to me, okay? Please?"
Helena held Myka's gaze, dark eyes boring into green. She drew in a deep breath, letting it out in a frustrated sigh. "Very well. I'll go, but only because you asked me to. Do not let that man terrorize you, darling. He can be unbearably boorish and rude."
Myka grinned at her, motioning to Pete with her eyes, urging him to get Helena out of the room. He took the hint, opening the door and bowing deeply. "Come on Your Highness, let's get out of here. Wouldn't want your ears befouled with all those choice words Myka's had saved up for Artie."
Helena merely rolled her eyes at him, her hand accidentally smacking him on the head as she sailed grandly past him into the hall, Myka's laughter floating in her wake.
Warehouse 13, Univille, South Dakota
Artie stared at the computer screen, his gaze unfocused as a steady stream of information scrolled by. He'd talked to Pete an hour ago. How long did it take for him to throw on that damn Dartmouth sweatshirt and drag Myka out of that woman's bed? He closed his eyes, willing the volcanic eruption of rage that accompanied every thought of H.G. Wells to subside.
"You must let it go, Arthur." Mrs. Fredric's voice whispered insidiously through his mind. "I'm telling you, it's time to move past your feelings of mistrust for Agent Wells. And as for Agent Bering, I think you'll find that she's in love, Arthur."
Love. That deadliest of emotions. The one that slipped in under all your defenses. The one that tore down every wall, that leveled every battlement. The one that left you defeated and alone. He hoped that Mrs. Fredric was wrong, that this was just a fling, an infatuation, a walk on the wild side for Myka, anything but love, but he knew that Mrs. Fredric was never wrong.
"Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind; And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind," he murmured, face set in a stony expression. "You never see what's right in front of you until it's too late."
The buzzing of the Farnsworth cut through his thoughts. He steeled himself and pressed the button, unsurprised when Myka's face filled the small screen. Her voice was distinctly chilly. "Pete said you wanted me to call?"
"Yes. I wanted to check in with you," Artie answered, trying to keep his tone conversational. "I hadn't spoken to you since you left."
"Yeah, well, considering that our last conversation wasn't particularly pleasant, I thought it would be better for Pete to handle updates," Myka stated coldly, not a hint of warmth in her face.
"Myka. I'm sorry for what I said," Artie began, pleased to see a tiny thaw in the ice at his words, a thaw that was quickly reversed as he continued. "I am aware that my choice of words was not the best, however, what I said, I said out of genuine concern for your well-being. I realize that you have developed feelings for Miss Wells, feelings that I believe have blinded you to her true nature. As your boss and as, I hope, your friend, I felt it was my duty to try and make you see the truth."
His words were met with silence and he watched as Myka's expression ran the gamut from rage to resignation to sadness. When she spoke, her tone was one usually reserved for small children frightened by imaginary monsters.
"Artie, the truth is, Helena isn't McPherson. She isn't the one who was your partner and your friend. She isn't the one who betrayed you. She isn't the one who destroyed your trust in people. She isn't the one who betrayed everything you believe in and tried to sell off artifacts to the highest bidder. She isn't the one who killed people who got in her way. She's just like you, a pawn that he used to get what he wanted. She's just the one left, the only one you can hate because McPherson's gone. But she isn't McPherson, Artie. She isn't. And until you realize that and you stop mistrusting her and stop hating her, I don't think that you and me have much to say to each other."
He stared at the Farnsworth for a long time, his reflection in the now blank screen gazing mournfully back at him.
Yesterday, the blanket of snow over the town had hidden the worst of the destruction; today, the snow had melted into the grime and soot, the sidewalks now a mushy river of gray slush, the signs of devastation made all the more pathetic by the white bandage barely covering the gaping wound. Myka, Helena, and Pete slogged their way down the street towards the church. Helena's boots weren't really intended for traipsing about in bad weather and she walked cautiously, eyes on the ground in front of her.
Even so, she slipped more than once, only Myka's hand under her arm providing her with much needed balance. Eventually, Myka simply tucked Helena's hand into the crook of her elbow, pulling the slender body close to her as they carefully made their way down the sidewalk. Helena smiled at her, reaching up to wrap the fingers of her other hand around Myka's forearm. She hadn't asked Myka how the conversation with Artie had gone. She hadn't needed to. She had seen it in the sadness in Myka's eyes, felt it in the hand that slipped into hers and held on tightly, even as they walked out of the restaurant into the frigid winter wind.
The inside of the church was more pristine than the outdoors, the snow still lying in powdery drifts amongst the remains of the pews and altar. Reverend Shaw was in almost the same position they had left him two days ago, the same broom propped against the wall near his side as he tried to shift the weight of the charred pulpit that blocked part of the aisle. He grunted with the exertion, his broad face red with the cold and the effort. He looked up as the agents picked their way through the rubble, eyes narrowing as he watched their progress.
"So, Agent Bering, are you ready to tell me why exactly the Secret Service is so interested in an unfortunate fire?" Rev. Shaw asked, his manner more than a little suspicious.
"Reverend Shaw," Pete interrupted, stepping forward and extending his hand, his voice and expression the picture of sincerity, "I'm Agent Lattimer. I am so sorry about the fire and what happened to your church. To your town. We're just here trying to help the local authorities figure out how this terrible tragedy occurred."
The minister scrutinized Pete's face, clearly looking for signs of subterfuge and finding none. He shook Pete's hand, shaking his head with a rueful grimace. "I'm sorry. All of you. I guess my nerves are a bit frayed. Usually in a situation like this, the church is the first refuge for those in need of help and assistance, but now, I'm afraid we can't even help ourselves."
"We understand, Reverend, how remarkably difficult and trying this must be for you," Myka said softly, "and we hate to cause you any further distress, but we need to ask you a few questions. Questions about your son."
"John Michael?" Rev. Shaw gasped, surprise stamped on his features. "Why in the world would you want to know about John Michael?"
"When was the last time that you saw him, Reverend?" Myka asked, sidestepping the minister's question for the moment.
"I'd like to know why you're asking about my son, Agent Bering," Rev. Shaw demanded, mouth set in a firm line.
"Reverend Shaw, I promise you we wouldn't be asking if it wasn't important. Please, can you just trust me?" Pete explained, his voice low and sincere.
The minister stared at him for long minutes, again searching Pete's face for some sign of deception. At length, he sighed, his eyes tracing the line of snow along what has been the east wall of the church.
"I haven't seen John Michael for nearly ten years," Rev. Shaw told them somewhat haltingly, his expression bewildered. "Not since May of 2000. He was supposed to graduate from high school that June, but there were some problems nothing more than boyish exuberance, but he had been suspended and the school told us he would have to complete his courses in summer school. He was upset, understandably upset. He wasn't thinking straight. He just disappeared one night in late May, just packed a duffel bag and sneaked out of the house.
"His mother was frantic. We called the Sheriff, we called all of his friends, everyone we could think of who might have some idea where the boy had gone, but no one could tell us anything," Rev. Shaw finished, the loss and the grief still a fresh wound on his heart. "When his mother was dying, I tried to find John Michael, but I found nary a trace of him. It was the one thing she asked of me and I could not do it for her."
"What was he suspended for, Reverend?" Helena asked kindly.
"He and a few of the other boys from the basketball team played a prank. That's all it was, a boyish prank. There was no malice in it, no harm. It was just for fun," Rev. Shaw answered, the lines on his face suddenly more pronounced. "They took the principal's car apart and put it back together inside the gym, right smack in the middle of the gym floor. The next morning the entire school thought the whole thing was hilarious, except for the Mr. Clark, the principal. I know it was wrong for John Michael to have participated in this, but the boys meant no harm. John Michael was the only one who admitted he was involved. The other boys wouldn't come clean and John Michael would not give up the names of his friends."
"I probably wouldn't have snitched, either," Pete asked, his tone sympathetic. "They were going to let him finish up in summer school?"
"Yes. We kept telling him it was all right, that he could still start college in the fall, but he wouldn't listen. I think he felt as if he had let us down," Rev. Shaw explained, his face sorrowful. "You see, all the ladies in the church had planned a huge graduation celebration for him. With the suspension, he wouldn't be graduating with his class. I believe he thought that he had shamed us. Shamed me. And I was disappointed, not in him, but in his choice to be a part of that prank."
"Sometimes children have a difficult time distinguishing between someone being disappointed in what they do and being disappointed in who they are," Myka said quietly, her eyes shuttered. "Did your son attend the church camp, Reverend?"
"Yes, he did," Rev. Shaw responded, eyes narrowing as he looked from one face to another. "Why this sudden interest in my son? I demand to know why you're asking all these questions about John Michael."
"I'm sorry, Reverend, but we can't discuss that with you," Pete said apologetically.
"I'm afraid that isn't good enough, young man," Rev. Shaw retorted, his face now flushed with emotion. "He's my son and I need to know why you're asking these questions. Do you have children, Agent Lattimer?"
Before Pete could do more than shake his head, Helena spoke. "I do. Or I did," she began, meeting the minister's questioning gaze. "My daughter was killed when she was still quite young."
"Now I see why you've lost your faith, my dear," the reverend said gently, reaching out a hand to grasp Helena's forearm. "No parent should ever have to bury a child."
"No, they shouldn't," Helena agreed, her expression unreadable. "But they're our children, not extensions of us. They're individuals, they make their own decisions, they develop their own characters and we are neither to be lauded for those choices or those characters nor are we to be blamed for them. What your son may have done, what he may do, is, as you would no doubt counsel, between him and God."
In the silence that followed, Helena watched as the pieces fit into place, as all the questions and all the events came together into one horrible truth.
"You think my son did this, don't you?" Rev. Shaw asked, the sweep of his hand taking in the ruined church, the ruined town. "You think that John Michael is responsible for this fire?"
"Does your son look like you, Reverend?" Helena asked, as now it was she reached who out and wrapped her fingers around his trembling arm. "That same black hair you were telling me about?"
Reverend Shaw could only nod, his weather-beaten face confused and frightened.
"Reverend, where are you staying? Are you at a motel?" Myka asked, finding it difficult to look away from Helena's face.
"No. I'm staying with parishioners. The Campbells. They live about a mile outside of town. The fire didn't get that far. They very kindly took an old man in," he explained, eyes dazed.
"Reverend, you have my card. Would you please call us if you hear from your son?" Myka asked kindly, forcing down the lump in her throat at the old man's obvious grief.
"John Michael wouldn't do this. He's a good boy. He wouldn't do this," Rev. Shaw repeated, clearly a mantra he desperately wanted to believe.
Helena squeezed his arm, her other hand coming up to grasp one of his, slender fingers virtually disappearing inside his leathery grip. "He's not a boy anymore. He's a man. A man you've never met. And regardless of how much we would like to believe that our children remain the loving, innocent souls they once were, you must know that isn't true. They grow up, they move away from us and no matter how hard we try, we cannot protect them from the world. And you know as well as I, Reverend Shaw, that the world is a cruel place. If it weren't, there would be no need for your God."
"Why don't we give you a ride to the Campbell's?" Pete suggested, moving alongside to gently grip the older man's elbow, guiding him, unresisting, down the aisle.
Myka and Helena followed, Myka wordlessly pulling Helena's body against her, one arm wrapped tightly around her waist, unconcerned with who might see them. As they walked down the street towards the SUV, Helena leaned her head against Myka's shoulder, the icy winter wind drying the tears that ran unchecked down her cheeks, each drop of grief reduced to the price of salt.
Outside Millville, California
They dropped Reverend Shaw at the home of his parishioners. The Campbells were curious as to why their minister was being brought back to their home by Secret Service agents, but with a subtle shake of Pete's head, their queries went unasked. It was clear that Rev. Shaw was in a fragile state and they fussed over him, fixing him some tea and settling him onto the couch as Pete and Myka excused themselves and walked back to the SUV. Helena had remained in the truck, murmuring something about not requiring three of them to escort an elderly man inside, but Myka knew that it was simply that Helena needed the time alone, the time to deal with the inundating emotions that seemed to be tossing her about like so much jetsam.
As Myka walked down the frozen ground of the driveway towards the SUV, the events of the morning replayed in her mind. She had awoken in the early hours of dawn to cool, empty sheets beside her and the steady thrum of the shower seeping under the door of the bathroom. She hadn't worried, lying there, listening to the sounds of the plows, the humming of the heater and the beat of the water, all lulling her into that state between slumber and wakefulness. It was only when the slamming of a door down the hall and the muffled sound of other guests moving through the hotel jarred her fully awake that she realized how long the shower had been running. Slipping out of bed with a worried frown, she'd stopped, her hand on the doorknob of the bathroom, her ear pressed against the door and heard the other sound, the sound of Helena's anguished sobs.
She'd felt so helpless, tugging her nightshirt over her head and stepping under the stinging spray, the water scalding hot, searing a line along the skin of her back as she wrapped Helena in her arms. At her touch, the other woman had melted against her, her body going limp and Myka had carefully lowered them both to the bathtub floor, pulling Helena across her lap and rocking her. She didn't remember what she'd said, the words of solace slipping without conscious thought from the lips she pressed against the sea-shell curve of Helena's ear. Myka had no idea how long they stayed there, a thick cocoon of steam separating them from the rest of the world, slowing time, slowing the spinning of the globe itself.
She had been worried about Helena for so long; if she was honest with herself, since that not-so-chance encounter at Tamalpais University, when Helena had first told her about losing her daughter, told her how lost she felt in this brave new world. The feeling had increased exponentially as they had grown closer and she had been able to see, as no one else could, the spidery cracks that threaded through Helena's psyche, cracks that Myka knew would need little force to splinter and spread, growing as wide as a canyon, sending Helena plummeting into depths from which Myka feared she could not recover.
Slipping into the driver's seat, Myka smiled at Helena, trying not to peer too intently at the expression in those dark eyes, pleased to find them relatively calm, all signs of the turmoil Helena had been struggling with gone, for now at least. She squeezed Helena's hand, feeling a sharp spike of relief as the other woman smiled reassuringly at her.
"How is he?" Helena asked, as Myka turned the SUV and headed back towards Millville.
"Upset, confused," Pete answered from the back. "I mean, can you imagine finding out that your kid might be responsible for burning down most of your town?"
Helena didn't answer and glancing from the road to the passenger seat, Myka caught a fleeting glimpse of some shadowy emotion before Helena recovered and the calm mask fell again. When she spoke, her voice betrayed nothing.
"I've been thinking about our mysterious John Michael. It's obvious he's been here for some time, and therefore, must be sleeping somewhere," Helena began, only to have her thought completed by Pete's voice.
"He's at the camp," Pete said firmly, leaning forward, arms braced on his knees. "It's where the first fire happened. He was probably just learning how to make the artifact work. His dad said he went there when he was a kid, so he knows the area. And even if anyone knew he was in town, no one would think to look out there."
Helena smiled at him, the faint glint of annoyance at being interrupted quickly quashed by Pete's answering grin. "Great minds think alike, right, H.G.?" Pete teased.
Before Helena could answer, Myka spoke, her voice droll as she smirked at Pete in the rearview mirror, "More like one great mind and one idiot savant."
"I guess that's better than just being called an idiot, which is what you usually do," Pete laughed. "Let's go check out Camp Kanuga and see if we can find our fiddle player."
"It's a lyre!" As the voices of the two women corrected him in unison, Pete leaned back against the seat and grinned.
"You're both so easy. Like shooting fish in a barrel," he chuckled.
Helena smiled at him again, this time the scary, menacing smile that made shift uncomfortably in his seat. "Just remember, Pete, to always check and make certain that those poor little fishes that you're shooting don't turn out to be piranhas."
Myka laughed, relieved that the sense of balance seemed to have been restored inside Helena, if only for the moment. Still, as they sped through the snow covered countryside, she couldn't help but cast furtive glances, praying not to see the cracks under Helena's feet grow wide enough to swallow her up.
The snow was far deeper at the camp. Stepping from the SUV, Helena's boots sank half-way up to her knees. She could feel the damp cold seeping through the expensive leather as she made her way around the front of the truck. The gate was still locked, the jump to the other side much more difficult. She climbed carefully this time. Still, her foot slipped on the metal bar, sending a jolt along her spine as she grasped for purchase. She felt Myka's hands on her waist, balancing her, felt the solid warmth of Myka's body against her back as she steadied her, allowing Helena to swing her leg over the bar and slip less than gracefully to the other side. Myka and Pete followed, their own movements equally clumsy, and the trio made their way down the narrow lane toward the camp.
The snow had iced over, leaving a thin crust along the top that crunched beneath their feet like glass with every step. Pete muttered, "We're making so much noise just walking that we may as well blow one of those damn vuvuzelas. No way does he not hear us coming."
"I agree that we have definitely lost the element of surprise, but given the current conditions, there's little we can do about it, unless you've suddenly developed the power of flight," Helena murmured back, her tone as frustrated as Pete's had been.
As they neared the outer cabins they spread out, Pete heading towards the charred remains of the main cabin, Myka and Helena on either side, all moving as silently as the brittle layer of ice and snow would allow. There was no movement within the confines of the camp, but also no sound, no birdsong, no whistle of wind across the frozen landscape. Helena paused, the silence crushing down on her as she stood nearly knee deep in the snow, her eyes scanning the surrounding area, the shadows of the cabins, the far tree line and seeing nothing.
She glanced across the camp where she could just make out Myka's figure as she moved silently through the buildings and trees. She had seen the looks of concern that Myka had been casting her way, noted the tension in the other woman's body, as if she were holding herself on alert in case Helena suddenly broke down again. She despised making Myka worry, but as hard as she tried to rein in the rushing cavalcade that was her current emotional state, it broke free from her when she least expected it.
Helena grimaced at the memory of this morning's shower scene, of how weak and vulnerable she had been. She had no issue with Myka seeing her that way; that wasn't the problem. It was the sensation of standing over a trap door, never knowing when the solid boards beneath her feet would disappear and she would fall, tumbling through space with no control, no way to slow her inevitable descent that filled her with frustration and a sense of helplessness. Yet part of her feared the cessation of the feelings nearly as much as the experience of them, feared that these paralyzing emotions were all she had. Feared that when they finally left her, she would be dead inside.
"It's not the falling that kills you," she murmured softly, "it's the sudden stop."
She had just turned to move back towards the others when she heard the first note off to her left, a minor chord followed by another and another, the melody rising into the stillness of the winter air.
"Myka! Pete! Run!" Helena yelled, her words lost in the crackle and whoosh of flame as the cabin nearest her was consumed by conflagration.
Far off it seemed, in the distance, she could hear voices calling to her, but the fire rose up like a wall in front of her, the roar as the flames reduced the structure to charred wood and ash drowning out everything but the faint sound of music coming ever closer. Helena tried not to panic, pulled the collar of her coat over her mouth and nose, peering unsuccessfully through the smoke. The heat of the fire melted the snow all around her, the ground now soft and muddy, the heels of her boots pulling with a sucking sound as she tried to move back toward the center of camp, back towards the road. As she stumbled forward, the plucking of the lyre's strings grew louder, the sound now so close she whirled around, eyes frantically searching for the source of the music.
"HELENA! HELENA! WHERE ARE YOU?! HELENA, ANSWER ME!" Myka's voice carried over the snap and pop of the flames and Helena tried to follow it.
She opened her mouth to yell back but the first lungful of air left her doubled over and coughing as she tried desperately to breathe through the now billowing smoke. The music was so near that the notes seemed to wrap around her like rope, tightening more the awful constriction of smoke-filled lungs. She ripped her coat off, her hands shaking, limbs uncooperative as she yanked her arms free and buried her face in the fabric, the thick leather blocking out some of the heavier smoke. The fire surrounded her now, a ring that danced and leaped in syncopated time to each pluck of the strings.
"HELENA!!" Myka was screaming now, the terror and agony in her voice ringing like a discordant bell through the smoke.
Helena forced herself upright, face still buried in her coat, eyes blurred and stinging from the smoke, whirling around like a lopsided top trying to see a way out, but there was none, only fire everywhere. She doubled over again as another fit of coughing overcame her, sending her to her knees. The music was right beside her now, and she forced her head up, forced bleary eyes to see the face of the man standing over her, the lyre held delicately in his hands.
"Helena, is it?" he spoke calmly, as if they had just been introduced at a party. "How appropriate. He played 'Sack of Ilium' it was said, as Rome burned around him. Nero? Did you know that? How perfect that I should have my own Helen here to witness the destruction of my father's kingdom."
She attempted to answer, only to be overcome by the smoke once again. Finally, she managed to choke out, "The lyre. Please. Give it to me. Stop this now."
"Oh, I'm afraid I can't do that. It called to me and I answered it and we still have a great deal to do together. We've come here for the end of days, you see," he replied, a trace of sadness in his voice.
"End of days?" Helena wheezed, the flames seeming to move nearer, the circle closing.
He reached down a hand and grasped her arm, pulling her roughly to her feet. "The end of days. I have been chosen. It called to me. The time is at hand."
In the haze of her mind, Helena tried to remain calm, to be rational, praying that Myka and Pete would find a way to get to her. She was close enough to him to be able to make out his face through the smoke, watery, hazy eyes taking in the fall of thick black hair over his forehead and the madness in the bright blue eyes beneath it.
"John Michael? How do you know about Nero and Ilium?" Helena coughed, her words all but unintelligible, as she desperately attempted to engage him.
A flash of anger lit those disturbing eyes for a moment, then he laughed, his fingers around her upper arm tightening painfully. "So very smart, aren't we to have found out my name? Ah, yes, dear old Dad must have told you I never managed to graduate from high school. So, I must be an idiot, right?"
"No. Not what not what I meant," Helena gasped, seized again by a fit of coughing.
"When I ran away from here, I drifted all around the country for a while. Then the voice began to speak to me. It told me to go to Chicago, to hide away in a disused storeroom in the public library, in the basement. I lived there for several years. At night, I would sneak upstairs and read. I read everything. That's how I know, how I know this is the end of days. For a while, I thought the voice had abandoned me, but one night a few months ago, it spoke to me again. It told me where to find it, how to free it. And I knew then it was my time to return here, to show my father that his kingdom is nothing but ash in the wind," he explained, his impassioned voice and the manic glint in his eyes filling her with terror.
"Please. Don't do this. Just give me the lyre," Helena whispered hoarsely, barely able to speak.
"Tell them the end of days is at hand," he told her firmly. "Tell them Helena, that Troy will burn again. A second Troy. Have you read Yeats? No Second Troy?"
The change in tone and topic caught her off guard, not that she could answer. She stared at him in confusion, unclear what an Irish poet had to do with any of this. She sagged against him, the lack of air to her lungs and brain leaving her light-headed.
"Read it. Or better yet, have your lovely girlfriend read it to you. Oh, yes, I saw the two of you the other day. How touchingly sweet. Yeats. Read it. She should appreciate it, perhaps even more than you will. Don't forget. And tell my father I'll be in touch," he said, the hand on her arm suddenly gone as he stepped away from her. With the hand supporting her gone, Helena once more dropped to her knees, her coat trapped beneath her.
The next moment the music began again, a different tune this time. The flames seemed for an instant to soar up higher against the smoke darkened sky and then, as the sound of the music faded into the distance, died away, and Helena found herself in the middle of a blackened circle, the smoke floating away on the once again brisk winter wind.
"HELENA!" Myka was there, arms wrapping around her, pulling her to her feet, guiding her away from the smoke, into the open air.
Helena collapsed against Myka, the weight of her forcing the taller woman to lower them both to the cold, wet ground, Helena's body wracked with coughing as her lungs reacted to the frigid, moist air. She could feel Myka's hands smoothing back her hair, hear the murmur of Myka's voice in her ear as she took Helena's coat and draped it across her shoulders. Pete stood over them, Tesla in hand, face grim and soot covered as his eyes darted across the blackened landscape, the remains of the cabins smoldering piles of timber and metal. Three circles of charred ground, one for each of them, three rings of fire that had destroyed the camp.
Helena finally managed to stop coughing, her face buried in the crook of Myka's neck. "Are you all right? What happened?" Helena said hoarsely, tilting her head back to meet Myka's eyes.
"Pete and I heard you yell for us to run. I was headed towards you when the flames just appeared out of nowhere. We were both trapped inside another circle, but ours seemed to die down faster than yours did. I'm fine. Pete's fine. You, on the other hand, are not fine," Myka replied, a slight note of hysteria coloring her tone. "We need to get you to the hospital."
"I don't need a hospital," Helena rasped, forcing herself into a sitting position. "We need to get to Reverend Shaw. Quickly. Warn him. His son is here for him. For the end of days."
"Helena, what are talking about? How do you know that?" Myka gasped, brows lowered, eyes flitting over Helena's face.
"He was there. In the circle with me," Helena responded, rubbing her eyes with her fingers, trying to ease some of the sting from the smoke. "He told me that a voice spoke to him. Told him where to go. Where to find the lyre. That it was the end of days and he had come to show his father that his kingdom, which I am assuming is his faith, is nothing but ashes."
"A voice spoke to him?" Pete asked with a frown. He met Myka's eyes, nodding. "Sounds like schizophrenia to me. Or do artifacts call to people?"
"Schizophrenia?" Helena asked, leaning against Myka as a wave of exhaustion rolled through her.
"A psychiatric disorder where the patient has dissociative episodes and may hear voices, or have paranoid delusions," Myka answered. "If John Michael is hearing voices, he may be schizophrenic. Unless artifacts do talk to people."
"I don't know if this one does or not. No one knows much about what it can do aside from its combustible attributes. He kept referring to 'the' voice and the artifact in the same manner, as if one emanated from the other, but I can't be sure what he meant. It was hard to concentrate," Helena admitted, closing her eyes as she continued to rest her cheek against Myka's shoulder, the ground incredibly cold and damp beneath them. A shiver went through her, part cold, part shock, and then another, her body beginning to shake in Myka's arms.
"Pete, help me get her up," Myka ordered, tightening her grip on Helena as she slowly rose to her feet, dragging Helena with her. Pete reached down and slipped his hands under Myka's elbows, helping her balance as she stood. "We've got to get her warmed up. Can you get the truck up here?"
"Yeah, I'll just do what we should have done in the first place and drive through that damn fence. Be right back," Pete answered, waiting for a nod of confirmation from Myka before he headed off at a run back towards the road and the SUV.
Myka held Helena away from her for a minute, pulling Helena's hands behind her back to slip into the sleeves of her coat before opening the front of her own coat and pulling the other woman flush against her, wrapping the edges around Helena's back, trying to stem the tide of the uncontrollable shivers now shaking Helena like a rag doll.
"Need to get to the minister," Helena said, teeth chattering as she burrowed as close to Myka's body as possible.
"We will, honey. We need to get you warmed up first," Myka promised, relief washing over her as she heard the sound of metal against metal and saw the SUV making its way towards them. "I don't think he's planning on contacting his father right now. He wants us to tell him, to give him his warning first. This is some kind of game for him and acting again too soon would take away some of the enjoyment. Don't you think?"
Helena was finding it difficult to think of anything clearly, but some part of her mind registered the logic of Myka's words. The SUV rolled to a stop beside them and Myka opened the back door, helping Helena into the truck and climbing in next to her. Pete turned the truck around and headed back towards the main road, the heater blasting a current of hot air down from the ceiling vents. Helena felt Myka slide her hands under her and pull her across her lap, the warmth of her body and the heat from the vents easing the shivering a bit.
Helena buried her face in Myka's neck, breathing in the scent of her perfume, dragging in deep breaths, filling her lungs with the smell, trying to erase the acrid stench of smoke and fear. As the warmth finally began to return to her body, Helena began to drift off to sleep, the sheer terror and anxiety leaving her exhausted. As she slipped into unconsciousness, it occurred to her that for the second time since McPherson had released her, she had faced death: this time she realized that more than anything, she wanted to live.
Myka insisted that Pete drop her and Helena off at the hotel before he went to talk to Reverend Shaw about his son. She bundled Helena out of the SUV and into the room, immediately stripping off Helena's wet clothes, the dank smell of smoke from her clothing permeating the room. Helena sat silent and still on the edge of the bed as Myka pulled off her boots, absently noting the stained leather as Myka tugged at her pant leg, the fabric soaked through up to her knees, clinging like a frozen second skin to her calf. The shivering that had eased in the warm cocoon of the truck began again in earnest as Myka slipped Helena's shirt off her shoulders.
"Come on, let's get you in the shower and warmed up," Myka ordered gently. "Then I'm going to call Artie and Claudia and fill them in on our fiddle player."
"It's a lyre," Helena rejoined weakly, the hint of a smile on her face all that she could manage. Still it elicited an answering grin from Myka, not a little relief mingled with amusement.
"Do you want me to join you or would you rather have some time alone?" Myka asked solicitously, her hand making smooth circles across Helena's back.
"I'll be all right. I'm fine, really. Not that I don't always enjoy your company, my sweet. Although, I don't believe that I'm quite up to trying out that shower rod again." Helena replied, her attempt at normal almost successful. Almost. "Seriously, darling, now that I've gotten most of the smoke out of my lungs, I'm feeling a hundred percent better. Honestly."
"Yeah, sure you are," Myka said skeptically, one eyebrow raised in disbelief as she rose and moved toward the bathroom. "Okay, you shower and I'll call Artie. Pete's gone to tell Reverend Shaw what John Michael said and see if he had any ideas about where he son will go from here, now that he's burned down the camp."
"We need to watch him, the good reverend. Keep him under surveillance, I believe the term is. I have no doubt that he will lead us to his son," Helena stated firmly, her voice sounding stronger and less raspy as she followed Myka, leaning against the counter as Myka turned on the water.
"I agree. But now that John Michael knows who we are, or at least what we look like, he'll be harder to follow if he does contact his father," Myka concurred, her back to Helena as she adjusted the taps, dipping her fingers under the stream of water to check the temperature.
"He already knew," Helena said softly.
"What do you mean, he already knew?" Myka turned from the tub to face her, her expression troubled.
Helena hesitated, choosing her words carefully, unwilling to upset Myka any more than she was already. "He told me that he saw us the other day, when we went to the camp."
As Myka scrolled quickly through her near-perfect memory, her expression became even more concerned. "Helena, what exactly did he say?"
"Just that he saw us. It wasn't an essential part of the conversation, darling," Helena rushed to assure her. "In fact, he mentioned it in passing, in reference to something else, a poem by Yeats that I don't recall having read, about the burning of Troy. Given the legend that Nero was playing 'The Sack of Ilium' on that lyre while Rome burned, the good reverend's son seems a bit obsessed with Troy's untimely demise. Being named Helena didn't help matters."
"So he knew who we were when we arrived there today," Myka mused. "Makes sense now that he started the fire immediately."
Neither of them voiced the thought that hung suspended in the air between them, the knowledge that an intimate moment, one that had meant so much to both of them, had provided ammunition for a ruthless enemy. They stared at each for long minutes before Myka sighed deeply and ran a hand across her brow, her bottom lip caught between her teeth. Helena reached behind her and unhooked her bra, then stepped gracefully out of her panties. She shivered again, although this time it had less to do with the cold and more to do with the look of desire that had flared in Myka's green eyes.
"You should get in the shower. God knows, we're wasting tons of water," Myka said softly, the urge to touch Helena written clearly on her face. "I'll go and give Artie a call and let him know what happened."
Helena nodded and stepped under the water, turning to again meet Myka's gaze as she slid the shower door closed. She almost changed her mind, almost asked Myka to shower with her, the need to touch and be touched washing over her with the same heat as the blistering spray, but she didn't. With anyone else, sex would have been enough, would have served to disconnect her from the events of the day, from her ever shifting emotions, but not now, not with Myka. With Myka, each time they made love cemented further the bond between them and called up in Helena a depth of feeling that she had never experienced before. Given the already turbulent state of her emotions, it seemed foolish to add another drop of water to a flood ravaged levee.
Helena could hear the murmur of Myka's voice over the thrum of the shower. She rinsed the shampoo from her hair, wondering idly if she would ever get the odor of smoke out of her nostrils completely. Stepping from the shower, she wrapped a towel turban-like around her head and one around her torso. She paused in front of the bathroom mirror, her image vague and distorted by the steam coated glass, the lines of her face melted and indistinct, only the dark ovals of her eyes standing out, eyes that she had once worried would show the chaos inside of her, show the shadows that crept ever closer to the surface. She had worried that Myka would see the madness hiding just behind the curtain, like some villain in a second-rate melodrama, but today's encounter with John Michael Shaw had dispelled that particular fear.
She had seen true madness in his eyes and it bore no resemblance to the mustachioed figure lurking in the recesses of her own mind. Hers was composed of guilt and anger and regret, veritable mountains of regret, but there was no malice, no desire to harm anyone but herself and even that had lessened a bit since Myka. Her life had been composed of two stages, but somehow, of late, she had realized that the line of demarcation lay not with her unbronzing but with her first meeting with Myka Bering over the barrel of a gun. The murky figure in the mirror almost smiled at the irony.
Myka was sitting in the middle of the bed, long legs crossed beneath her, staring absently at the cell phone in her hand. The Farnsworth lay on the bed beside her. As Helena moved across the room towards her, Myka looked up, a smile playing on her lips.
"Feel better?" she asked tenderly, patting the bed next to her.
Helena sank down onto the mattress, unwrapping the towel from her head and rubbing her wet hair, squeezing some of the moisture from the long strands. "Much. How did the discussion with Artie go?"
"It was it was Artie. He asked a lot of questions, of course," Myka began, her next words interrupted as Helena spoke.
"Most of which, I am certain, concerned me and my 'supposed' encounter with our arsonist, correct? It occurred to me in the shower that the whole conversation with the elusive Mr. Shaw was no doubt suspect in Artie's eyes, as was any intelligence I gathered," Helena said wearily, unable to keep her frustration with Artie's continued distrust of her hidden completely.
"Helena," Myka said, her own annoyance at Artie's ongoing vendetta beginning to wear on her, "it doesn't matter whether Artie believes it or not. He's not here, he doesn't have to figure out some way to catch Shaw and get the lyre back. It's easy to sit in judgment when you're not the one putting your ass on the line. Pete and I trust you unconditionally. That's all that matters."
"I know, darling. And I cannot tell you how much that means to me. I just wish I knew how to prove myself to him," Helena said quietly.
"You don't have to prove anything to anyone," Myka told her, wrapping her arms around Helena and pulling her close. "Pete called. He talked to Reverend Shaw and told him what happened, what John Michael said. He asked if there was any history of mental illness in the family, suggested maybe that John Michael was just starting to develop the symptoms of schizophrenia when he left home, but Pete said the minister was adamant that there was no one on either side of the family that suffered from anything worse than gout."
"Poor man," Helena murmured, resting her head on Myka's shoulder. "In a way, I would think it would be easier to believe that some mental defect caused your child to become a monster rather than the alternative. It would be for me, at least."
"Pete's going to stay out there tonight, just in case. I think that the Campbell's suggested it. We can relieve him in the morning. He can come back here and get some sleep and we'll take the truck back out there," Myka told her, her fingers tracing an abstract pattern on the skin of Helena's arm.
They sat in silence for a few moments listening to the soft whirr of the heater, each lost in her own thoughts. Suddenly, Helena pulled back slightly in Myka's embrace, the abruptness of her movement softened by her smile. "I'm cold. I'm going to get dressed. Perhaps we can walk to the restaurant and get some dinner?"
"Sounds like a plan," Myka answered, smiling back, gathering the Farnsworth and the cell phone and placing them on the bedside table.
"Darling, did you bring your computer with you?" Helena asked, dropping her towel unselfconsciously and rummaging around in her bag for clean underwear and bra.
Her words were met with silence and she glanced up to find Myka's eyes trailing slowly up and down her body. "Myka, darling?"
"What? I'm sorry," Myka stammered, a bright crimson flush staining her cheeks. "What did you say?"
Helena laughed, that low, rich chuckle that sent goose bumps along Myka's skin, and pulled a pair of black jeans and a dark purple blouse out of her bag. "I asked if you had your computer with you. I wanted to look up the poem to which Mr. Shaw referred. I don't know if it has any significance, but he seemed quite adamant that I read it."
"Yes. Yes, I do," Myka pronounced, crossing the room to where her backpack lay on the table. She extracted the laptop and powered it up, returning to the bed to sit against the pillow strewn headboard. "Okay, what was the name of it?"
"I remember reading some of Yeats poems, but this one didn't strike a bell. I believe he said it was called, No Second Troy," Helena replied, pulling on and buttoning her shirt. She joined Myka on the bed, lying flat, her head against the pillows. "Did you find it?"
"Hmm," Myka hummed, eyes fixed on the screen. "Um, yeah. I found it."
"Read it to me?" Helena asked, the fear that had been steadily gathering in her now sitting like a goblin on her chest.
Myka cleared her throat and began to read,
"WHY should I blame her that she filled my days
With misery, or that she would of late
Have taught to ignorant men most violent ways,
Or hurled the little streets upon the great.
Had they but courage equal to desire?
What could have made her peaceful with a mind
That nobleness made simple as a fire,
With beauty like a tightened bow, a kind
That is not natural in an age like this,
Being high and solitary and most stern?
Why, what could she have done, being what she is?
Was there another Troy for her to burn?"
As the last syllable faded away, Helena turned her head and met Myka's eyes. Myriad explanations flooded Helena's mind: Shaw's obsession with all things related to Troy, his accidental overhearing of her conversation with Myka at the camp; the coincidence of her name, the illness that plagued his mind, the alignment of the planets, the consummation of some massive karmic incident. None of which accounted for the compelling symmetry of it all, for the terrible beauty of the poem, for the tone of Myka's voice as she read it or the expression in her green eyes.
"I know that I am mad, but mother dearest, now, for this one time, I do not rave," Helena quoted softly, dark eyes unreadable. "Mad prophets, indeed."
"Helena, what are you talking about?" Myka asked, putting the laptop on the floor and sliding down on the bed until her face was even with Helena's.
"Perhaps Mr. Shaw is a prophet after all. He did speak of the end of days and mad prophets have been with us since long before the days of Troy. Perhaps he knows something we don't," Helena answered quietly, her eyes fixed on the wall beyond Myka's head.
"What was that about being mad?" Myka demanded, reaching out a hand to gently grasp Helena's jaw, forcing her gaze down.
"Euripides. The Trojan Women. Cassandra's talking to her mother, Hecuba. Helen has brought about the destruction of Troy and because she scorned a god, Cassandra has been cursed with the gift of prophecy, prophecy that no one believes. It may be that our Mr. Shaw is something of a mad prophet himself," Helena explained, a look of profound sadness taking hold in her dark eyes.
Myka didn't respond for a moment, taking a deep breath and closing her eyes. When she opened them, they were bright and determined. "Bullshit."
"Pardon me?" Helena blinked, Myka's no nonsense tone jarring her out of the funk into which she was rapidly sinking.
"I said, bullshit. Helena, he's a crazy guy who's been burning down entire towns with a stolen artifact. He's obsessed with Nero and Troy and the fire and destruction. He overheard our conversation the other day, a conversation about fears and insecurities and your name is Helena and he thought it would be fun to toy with you, to make you question everything. And why did he do this? Because he's crazy!" Myka ranted, her voice growing considerably louder and more emphatic by the end. "And just for the record, I know the whole story of Troy and Helen and Cassandra. You didn't launch a thousand ships, sweetheart. You didn't cause any of this. You haven't done anything wrong except let a crazy man inside your head and it has to stop!"
"You're right," Helena sighed, shaking her head at the thoughts that had been rampaging like angry Huns through her brain. "You're right. He was toying with me and I allowed it. I looked into those eyes. I saw the madness, the malice in them, heard the rage in his voice. I'm sorry, darling. I don't know what came over me."
Myka drew her closer, one arm sliding under the pillow beneath her head, the other around her waist. Their faces were inches apart, warm breath mingling. "We both know that you've been feeling really vulnerable and off-balance, Helena, with very good reason. Your entire life has changed beyond recognition. It's easy to allow your doubts and your fears to control you. Trust me, I know. He heard us talking about this the other day and he used it to get to you. He seems to thrive on other people's pain, on causing other people's pain. You can't let him. We will find him and we will get the artifact. And in the meantime, you have to remember that I love you and there is nothing that is ever going to change that. Nothing."
Helena was amazed when the tears didn't come. Instead of feeling more, she felt less. Less guilt. Less regret. Less fear. She wasn't certain if it was the sensation of the goblin being removed from her chest, or simply a numbing distillation. Whichever it was, for the moment she could only be grateful, grateful for the profoundly lovely, loving creature now holding her in her arms. She took a deep breath and then another.
"I love you, too."
Myka grinned at her, and Helena could see the relief etched in every line of Myka's face. "Although, that line about 'beauty like a tightened bow' does fit you pretty well."
"Stern? It said stern and unnatural," Helena huffed, chuckling a little as she rubbed her nose along the curve of Myka's cheekbone. "Well, at least you didn't pick the one about having a simple mind."
"It said 'that nobleness made simple as a fire', not simpleminded," Myka corrected, before she caught the teasing glint in Helena's eyes. "Although I may need to rethink that one."
"You said you'd feed me," Helena wheedled, sitting up and pulling Myka upright as well. "We should go eat and come back and get some sleep. Tomorrow promises to be a rather unpleasant day."
"I have a better idea," Myka proposed, pulling Helena back into a supine position. "We stay here, order pizza, get in bed and watch I Love Lucy reruns."
"What exactly is a rerun and/or an I Love Lucy?" Helena asked, happily settling back in Myka's arms. All of her doubts and emotional unbalance still remained in large part, but something had shifted, at least enough for her to breathe.
"A rerun is a re-showing of a television episode. I Love Lucy is the greatest comedy ever seen on T.V. I promise, you'll like it," Myka explained. "Now unhand me woman, so I can order our food."
"Unhand you? I'm afraid you'll have to use much smaller words. I am, after all, but a simpleminded beauty," Helena laughed, slipping her hands behind Myka's head and pulling her closer.
Lowering her mouth to Helena's, Myka murmured softly, "You can be my trophy girlfriend. And you know what? I can live with being shallow."
Helena was dreaming. In her dream, she watched as long arcs of blood splattered against the filthy cement wall of a deserted warehouse in Lyon, marveled at the way flesh parted under the silvered steel of a razor, listened as scream after scream bounced like billiard balls off the rusted iron ceiling. The sharp ring of Myka's cell phone jarred her from sleep, the sound pulsing behind Helena's eyelids in terrible bursts of crimson.
It took Myka a moment to untangle her limbs from Helena's, to pull away from warm, silken skin, snaking an arm out from under the blanket to grab the phone from the nightstand.
"Pete?" Myka asked groggily, her eyes focusing on the yellow numbers of the alarm clock. 4:13.
"Myka, I'm on my way to the hotel. Reverend Shaw is gone," Pete told her grimly, his voice unnaturally loud, carrying easily to Helena's ears as she lay behind Myka, her chin resting on the younger woman's shoulder.
"He's gone? What do you mean, gone?" Myka tried to make the words make sense, tried to push away the sand of sleep that seemed to have seeped into every crevice of her mind, slowing all the cogs and wheels.
"Left, disappeared. As in no longer at the Campbell's. I slept on the couch downstairs, so I would be able to hear if anyone tried to break in, but I wasn't listening for someone breaking out," Pete said, the bitterness of self-recrimination clear in his voice. "He must have snuck right by me. Moves pretty quietly for an old guy. He took the Campbell's car. I heard it drive away, but by that time, it was too late."
"Do they have any idea where he might have gone or why?" Myka asked, turning to meet Helena's eyes in the dim light of the hotel room.
"I'd swear on a stack of Bibles that Reverend Shaw didn't talk to anyone but the Campbells and me. The only thing I can figure is that he got thinking about what we asked him, about where his son might hide. The only place that the Campbells could think of that Reverend Shaw might believe John Michael is hiding is an old fishing cabin on Whiskeytown Lake. I guess the Rev used to take his son up there when he was young. Right now, it's the only lead we have," Pete supplied.
"Whiskeytown Lake?" Myka queried, the name sounding slightly familiar.
"It's smaller than Lake Shasta. It's on the other side of Redding. The hotel's on the way. I'll be there in about ten minutes." Pete said brusquely.
As Myka talked, Helena slipped from beneath the covers, the cool air of the room hitting her sleep warmed skin and sending a shiver along her spine as she quickly pulled on the clean clothes she had discarded last night. Myka hung up and sat unmoving for several minutes, a frown creasing her forehead, the thin strip of yellow streetlight that crept in through the gap in the curtains falling across her shoulder and chest like a golden sash, the trappings of a hero.
"Darling? Were you planning on going and finding the good reverend sans clothing?" Helena asked gently, crossing back to the bed to perch on the edge of the mattress.
"What?" Myka asked, her frown deepening as the sound of Helena's voice penetrated her consciousness, though not the words.
"I asked if you were planning on getting dressed. Pete will be here in a few minutes," Helena replied, reaching out a hand to tenderly cup Myka's cheek. Her fingers slipped down along the graceful curve of Myka's arm, twining their hands together. "Myka, what's wrong?"
"Something there's something about this. I can't quite pin it down, but there's something about this that I should remember, but I can't," Myka responded, frustration in her voice.
"Perhaps it will come to you on the drive. If I recall correctly from my short stint as navigator, Whiskeytown Lake is about thirty or so miles west of here," Helena suggested, flicking on the bedside lamp and rummaging around Myka's luggage. She pulled out clean underwear and clothes which she laid on the bottom of the bed. "Come on, love, get dressed."
Helena watched Myka dress in the half light thrown by the lamp, a feeling of weariness settling over her like a heavy woolen cloak, bowing her shoulders. The thrill of the chase, the sense of adventure, the rush of adrenaline that usually accompanied the search for an artifact had left her somewhere amid the flames at the camp. Now, despite her encouragement to Myka to ready herself to go, all Helen truly desired was to crawl back into that warm bed, Myka's arms wrapped solidly around her, and sleep for the next few days. Or weeks. Myka might not be able to pin down that elusive, troubling memory but Helena was quite certain of one thing. None of this was going to end well.
Myka was sitting on the edge of the bed, slender fingers lacing up her boots, curls falling around her face and shoulders like a curtain of golden brown. The sheer effort it took to stop herself from begging Myka to simply forget about the lyre, forget about the mad prophet and his father and everything else and stay here with her drained away a little more of her rapidly dwindling energy reserves. Myka finished lacing her boots and stood, their eyes meeting across the short distance. She frowned again, clearly finding in Helena's expression something foreboding. Helena attempted a reassuring smile, but it merely touched the corners of her mouth.
"Helena?" Myka began, the rest of her question lost in the rap of knuckles on the hotel room door.
Helena tilted her head back and sighed, the smile stronger and less sincere than before as she turned and crossed to the door, turning the deadbolt back and opening it. Pete stood on the other side, face haggard, a dark shadow of whiskers lining his jaw, mirrored by the circles under his eyes.
"You two ready?" Pete asked hurriedly. "He's got about a twenty minute start on us. The Campbells told me approximately where the cabin is. It's been years since they've been out there, but at least we have a general idea. We need to hurry."
"Yes, we're ready," Helena assured him, ignoring the look of concern still lurking in Myka's eyes. Both of them knew there was no time for that now, and Helena felt a surge of anger with herself for being the continued cause of that expression on Myka's face. "It's time to put an end to our mad prophet's reign of terror."
Pete nodded grimly and turned to head back down the hall towards the exit. Helena started to follow him, only to be brought up short by Myka's hand on her wrist. "Helena, what is it?"
"It's nothing, darling. I'm just tired. It's four in the morning, it's cold, it's damp and I'd much rather be back in bed with you then chasing some maniac around the countryside. That's all," Helena answered, trying but not quite succeeding at keeping the sharpness out of her voice.
Myka seemed to be struggling with whether or not to take Helena's words at face value, but the sound of a car door slamming and an engine starting outside the hotel decided for her. "We should go," she said, her fingers still wrapped gently around Helena's wrist. She stepped out into the hall, pulling the older woman with her and shut the door. As they walked towards the outside door, her hand slid down, entangling her fingers with Helena's. Myka squeezed tightly, although in reassurance, in sympathy, or in fear, Helena wasn't certain.
Whiskeytown Lake, California
The ride to Whiskeytown Lake was a relatively quiet one. Helena sat in the back seat, gloved hands tucked under her arms, chin on her chest, buried in the soft leather of her coat and the warm wool of Myka's scarf. The scent of smoke still lingered in the fabric, the smell bringing with it the memory of flames and a madman's voice. Pete's face was set in a determined mask, his eyes focused on the road as they flew through the darkened landscape, the wheels seeming to barely hold the pavement on the wide curves. Myka sat sideways in her seat, her gaze alternating between her clearly upset partner and her silent lover.
There were no other cars on the winding highway and soon they saw the signs for the lake. Pete slowed the car, the road narrower as they skirted the outline of the lake, the vague shapes of small cabins and dirt lanes that disappeared into the treeline just visible along the edge of the road. There was far more snow here, several inches that glowed with a spectral whiteness in the pale illumination of the half moon. Helena felt a shiver ghost along her skin, although this time it wasn't the cold.
"How much farther do you think it is?" Myka asked, her voice unnaturally loud in the quiet of the truck.
"A few miles, I think," Pete replied, face tight with concentration as he drove the snaking, twisting road. "The Campbells were pretty sure it's up on the far corner of the lake."
"Lakes have corners?" Helena inquired absently, her voice muffled against her chest.
"The far edge, okay? Far side? Outer rim? Any of those better?" Pete retorted sharply, his voice holding a distinct edge of its own.
"Pete!" Myka countered, surprise and annoyance stamped on her features.
Pete had the good grace to look contrite. "Sorry, H.G. Didn't mean to snap at you. It's been a long night."
"No need to apologize," Helena murmured, her voice clearer as she sat up straight and inched forward on the seat. "I was simply trying to break the tension a bit and all I succeeded in doing was making it worse."
"It's not your fault," Pete reassured, giving Helena a faint smile in the rearview mirror. "I just feel like this is my fault, like I should've been watching the old man better."
"Pete, he would have done the same thing to either of us," Myka told him solemnly. "No one is to blame for any of this. Except John Michael Shaw."
They lapsed back into silence, the only sounds the wind sweeping past the SUV and the snick of the tires on the cold concrete. Three pairs of eyes peered fruitlessly into the blackness, looking for any sign of the Campbell's car. The number of houses and cabins had diminished greatly, with only the occasional structure now breaking the steady line of trees. Suddenly they rounded a curve and the lake appeared along the left side of the car, as if conjured out of some storybook, the water almost black and shimmering in the faint trickle of moonlight. Around the next bend in the road, a faint glimmer shone along the shoreline, the light from a small fire that grew ever brighter against the dark waters of the lake.
Myka gasped, her eyes swinging from the flames to the back seat of the car, seeking out Helena's face. Pete gunned the engine and the truck leapt forward, barreling toward the cabin that they could just make out in the burnished glow of the fire. The tires threw up gravel as Pete swung the SUV into the narrow lane that led to the cabin. As they drew nearer to the water, they could see two figures silhouetted in the beams of the headlights, a small fire burning brightly at the edge of the lake.
Dirt, gravel and snow flew as Pete slammed on the brakes, the three of them jumping quickly from the truck, running the few yards towards where the two men stood on the end of a dilapidated dock. The raised voices carried to them as they drew closer, one young and strident and angry, the other older and tired and anguished.
"Please, John Michael, please. Come back with me. We'll find someone who can help you," Rev. Shaw pleaded, his hands outstretched to his son who stood on the far end of the dock, the lyre clutched tightly to his chest.
As the footsteps of the three agents crunched on the snow-covered trail, John Michael looked up, an expression of malicious glee lighting his face. "Stop right there!" he yelled, raising the lyre in warning. "Don't come any closer."
"Reverend Shaw, are you all right?" Myka called as they paused about twenty feet from the dock, her eyes fixed on the slightly stooped figure of the minister.
"I'm fine, Agent Bering. You three should leave now and let me talk to my son," the reverend answered, his voice frighteningly calm and patient.
"Oh, no, Dad. They can't leave. Why, they just got here!" John Michael laughed, the sound echoing back from the hills surrounding the lake. "We can't be inhospitable to our guests! Besides, they're here to witness, aren't you, Helena? Here to see the end of days?"
Helena tried to answer, her voice catching in her throat as the sound of maniacal laughter washed over them. Finally, she forced to herself to speak, "John Michael. This isn't the way. Please, put down the lyre. Let your father go."
"Oh, Helena, I expected so much more from you. After that lyrical, impassioned declaration of love the other day, I was expecting a bit more eloquence. But not to worry," John Michael responded, shaking his head in disappointment. "I'm afraid I can't do that. Can't let him leave. Can't give you what you seek. Our work is almost done. I'm glad you're here, though. I want to see your face as the world burns down."
"John Michael, you don't have to do this, my boy. Give these people that infernal contraption and come home with me," Rev. Shaw begged, shuffling steps taking him nearer to his son.
"Home? There is no home, Reverend. Remember? It burned. Just like your church burned. And the town. All the homes of those hypocrites and liars. And now it's time for your faith to burn," John Michael shouted, the small fire at the edge of the water growing stronger, the flames rising up against the black winter sky.
Pete and Myka began to move slowly forward, the sound of their footsteps drowned out by John Michael's voice. He saw them, however. "I told you to stay there, didn't I? Your thug and your lovely girlfriend don't listen too well, do they, Helena? One more step and there will be a pile of ashes where my father stands."
"We won't move, I promise," Helena told him, hand reaching out to clutch at Myka's sleeve, tugging her back. Myka came reluctantly, her eyes futilely scanning the area for some way to get to Shaw as Pete, too, stepped back.
"Good, because it's time," John Michael intoned with a satisfied air. "Time for the end of days. You know how it goes, now don't you, Reverend Shaw?"
"John Michael, please. Let these people go and I will stay here with you. I'll stay as long as I have to," the minister cajoled, his tone one used on frightened animals and recalcitrant children.
"Oh, it's far too late for that, I'm afraid. Besides, there must be witnesses to record the fall of your Father's kingdom, like Homer telling the tale of Troy's demise. And who better than my own Helen, cursed by her beauty, destined to destroy everything she touches," John Michael detailed, the glow from the flames along the shoreline grown bright enough to illuminate his face, the flames reflecting back the madness in his eyes.
Helena felt the words strike her like sharp pellets of ice stinging her face. She closed her eyes, willing down the surging lava of guilt and recrimination that rose up inside her. The words were like an insidious whisper inside her head, mocking, taunting, daring her to argue, daring her to pretend that it wasn't true, that she wasn't responsible for so much death, so much misery.
Myka turned to her, long fingers pressing into the skin of her upper arm through her leather coat as she grabbed hold of Helena, her voice hard and uncompromising, "Helena! Do not let him get into your head!"
Helena opened her eyes to the love and protectiveness in Myka's face, the sheer force of the younger woman's determination capping off the flow of emotion that had suddenly threatened to overwhelm her. Again.
"I'm fine. We need to get Reverend Shaw out of there. Now," Helena told her, releasing a shaky breath, her gaze fixed on the dock behind Myka where the two men still stood.
"Myka. If you can distract him, I'll make a run, throw him into the water before he can use the lyre," Pete interjected in a whisper, his breath a puff of smoke.
"No!" Helena answered for her, her expression adamant. "All it takes it one note, one string and you would be dead before you reached the dock. He thinks he's a prophet. We need to find some way to use that against him."
"Oh, Helena!" John Michael called in a lilting tone. "Are you ready to witness the end of all things?"
Helena took a deep breath and stepped around Myka, placing the other woman and Pete behind her. "Surely there's more to it than that?" she asked, forcing every ounce of confidence into her voice. "Where's the prophecy? The great speeches, the warnings and laments?"
John Michael paused for a moment, a smile playing on his lips. "Nice try, Helena. But you know the prophecy, you know the warning as well as I do. My father knows it, don't you, Daddy dear?"
"John Michael, I don't know what you mean. All I know is that you're my son and I love you. I just want to help you," Rev. Shaw answered, voice full of grief and fear.
"Behold, the end of days is at hand," John Michael pronounced, his voice ringing across the still waters, resounding off the circle of hills as he began to strum the lyre, the minor chords harsh and dissonant. "And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that worked miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone."
As the younger Shaw intoned the words, the flames from the blaze along the shore seemed to come to life, reaching out fiery hands and racing towards the water. As they reached the lake however, the fire wasn't quenched by the water, instead skimming along the surface of the lake like flames across a field of gasoline. Soon a wide arc of fire engulfed the lake surrounding the dock. Reverend Shaw stood immobile with fear as the fire skirted closer and closer to the frail wooden structure beneath their feet.
"See, Father? A lake of fire to cleanse away all falsehood!" John Michael shouted. "You were such a hypocrite! You preached love and forgiveness for everyone but your own son! One mistake, one mistake and I was cast aside!!"
"No, John, no! I understood! I told you that it would be all right!" Reverend Shaw argued, eyes wide as he moved toward his son, hands again outstretched.
"You told me I had disappointed you. That I had disappointed Mom! You said you were going to have to tell the church women to cancel the celebration! You didn't defend me! You let them punish me for something other people did and everyone said what a good father you were! How patient! Liar! Hypocrite!! All those words about forgiving. Lies!!" John Michael was screaming now, the heartrending cry of a wounded child. "It's time for you to find out that there is no forgiveness!"
Reverend Shaw stepped closer to his son, momentarily blocking his view of the end of the dock and Myka saw her chance. She broke free from behind Helena, sprinting desperately toward the two men. John Michael shoved his father away from him and the old man collapsed in a heap on the wooden planks. The younger Shaw looked up and saw Myka running towards him, her coat flying out behind her like the wings of an avenging angel and he pulled his fingers across the strings of the lyre, one loud, discordant chord. The flames sailed along the water, racing up the shore and completely encircling the dock in a wall of fire with Myka inside.
"Myka!! No!!" Helena screamed, hurling herself forward, only to find her progress abruptly stopped by what felt like steel bands as Pete's arms wrapped around her, pulling her back from the flames.
"Let me go, damn you!! Let me go!!" Helena yelled, struggling to be free, arms pinned to her sides, as she lashed out with her feet, kicking as hard as she could, to little avail. She could hear Pete grunting in pain as her boots made contact with his shins, but he did not loosen his grip on her. "Bastard!! Let go of me!!"
"No!" Pete shouted, his mouth close to her ear. "That's a solid wall of fire! If we try to get through it'll burn us alive and we won't be any help to Myka that way!"
"I have to help her!" Helena begged, suddenly stomping the heel of her boot on Pete's foot. Instead of releasing her, he pushed her to the ground, falling half on top of her and pinning her down.
"Myka will kill me if I let anything happen to you," he grunted, as she shoved her elbow back into his abdomen. "Fuck it, H.G. Stop fighting!"
Helena stopped. She let her body go limp, her head falling forward, face pressed into the trampled snow and hard ground beneath it, uncaring as the cold stung her skin. She lay there, her breath coming out in stuttered, painful gasps. Pete held her down for a few moments longer, uncertain whether this was a trick. When she spoke, he had to lean over her to hear it, her voice muffled by the snow.
"You have to let me go," she said softly, tonelessly. "Don't you see? I love her. I either have to save her or I have to die with her. There are no others choices for me."
Thirty seconds later, Helena felt the weight lift off her back and a hand under her elbow pulling her to her feet. She looked into Pete's eyes and saw understanding and affinity. He nodded, turning to assess the situation. The fire surrounded the dock, flames rising twenty feet into the air, the roar of the flames and the hiss of the steam sending a cloud of moisture billowing into the night sky drowning out even the music that gave it life.
Helena moved quickly across the snow covered ground, Pete at her heels. She stopped on the far side of the fire, along the muddy bank of the lake, her boots sinking in, holding her in place as she stripped off her coat and gloves.
"I can go under. Wade out far enough to swim under the flames," she reasoned, holding out a hand to Pete for balance as she bent to pull off one, then the other boot. "If I come up on this side, I should be behind him. Give me your gun."
"Helena ," Pete replied, whatever protest he was about to utter dying on his lips at the expression on her face.
He remembered Claudia telling him about what Helena had told her, about how she had hunted and killed the men who had murdered her daughter, and about the look that Claudia had described on Helena's face as she spoke. It was there now and Claudia's words echoed in his mind, "That was one of the scariest looks I've ever seen."
Without another word he slipped the gun from the holster under his coat. He slid off the safety and handed it to her. She nodded and tucked it into the waistband of her jeans, her eyes black ovals in a pale face. They were nearly ten yards from the ring of fire and she began to wade out into the frigid lake water, the steam rising and ghosting along the surface of the lake. She murmured softly, the words lost in the fizzle and sputter as fire met water, "And there passed through pale-glimmering phantoms, and the ghosts escaped from sepulchres, until he found Persephone and Pluto, master-king of shadow realms below.
It had taken only a few minutes for all feeling to flee from her limbs as the glacial water turned her blood to ice. She pressed onward, the waters rising to lap against her chest. She forced air into lungs nearly paralyzed with cold, turning her head to glance at the shore where Pete's figure stood outlined by the glow of the flames. She raised her hand, a brief, acknowledging wave before she dragged in a deep breath and sank down, disappearing beneath the surface.
Whiskeytown Lake, California
The last time that she had been this cold, she'd been lying on the floor of a deserted warehouse in Russia. Her limbs had gone numb within minutes of submerging beneath the lake waters, leaving her flailing about like a drunken seal, unable to control her arms and legs. She surfaced, miraculously it seemed to her, on the other side of the fiery circle that surrounded the dock, just close enough to the flames that the heat warmed the water around her and sent a wash of searing air over her head. She stayed there, legs churning below the surface, keeping her afloat as she allowed the warmer water to seep into her body, pulling the steam-laden air into lungs nearly paralyzed from cold. If she had any chance of saving Myka, she needed to be able to at least climb onto the dock; to be able to grasp the gun.
John Michael Shaw might not be a prophet, but the sense of foreboding that Helena had felt standing in Myka's room just a few nights ago had been brought to terrifying fruition. All of the fear, all of the terror that plagued her on countless sleepless night, when she lay awake and listened to the sound of Myka breathing, had now been made manifest. She could feel it rising up from the deepest recesses of the lake, a monster that swam ever closer, threatening to devour her, threatening to wrap around her and crush the breath from her body. Losing Myka was the one thing she knew she would never survive, the one sacrifice she was unable to make. She could feel the cracks inside her growing wider, spreading ever farther as she tried desperately to hang on to what little control she had over her emotions, but like the little boy who tried to stem the flood with a single finger, she knew that eventually the dam would be breached, laying waste to everything in its path.
From the dock, she could hear the ranting voice of John Michael Shaw, his words rising into the black night to dissipate with the billowing steam. She was only about ten yards away, almost directly behind him, and she prayed that even with the illumination of the flames, that the water vapors that now floated like specters along the dark plane of the lake would obscure her from his view should he turn. Not that there seemed much likelihood of that happening. He was far too immersed in revealing his vision of the world, far too arrogant in the power he wielded to concern himself with the possibility of her. Myka stood facing him a few feet away, her hand outstretched to Reverend Shaw. The good minister ignored her gesture, face a mask of pain and grief, his eyes fixed on the figure of his son, who stood, one hand raised to the heavens, the other holding fast to the lyre.
Helena inched a little closer to the wall of fire, the water around her now the temperature of the seas off the coast of Jamaica she remembered from a long ago quest to find Blackbeard's cutlass. It warmed her skin, sinking into her muscles and bones. As she felt the feeling return to her fingers, she listened to the crazed tirade echoing forth from Shaw's lips, a madman's melding of scripture and epic, the words of John's Revelations and Homer's lament brought together in an unholy joining.
"When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earthGog and Magogand to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God's people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever ..
"The generation of men is like that of leaves. The wind scatters one year's leaves on the ground, but the forest burgeons and puts out others, as the season of spring comes round. So it is with men: on generation grows on, and another is passing away .
"The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned into blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed .
"The best of things, beyond their measure, cloy; Sleep's balmy blessing, love's endearing joy; The feast, the dance; whate'er mankind desire, Even the sweet charms of sacred numbers tire. But Troy forever reaps a dire delight, In thirst of slaughter, and in lust of fight."
Helena steeled herself and thrust her hands into the water as close to the fire as she could stand, holding them there as the water scalded her skin. She knew that it wasn't the smartest thing she'd ever done, but right now, she was out of options. Easing away from the flames, she took a deep breath and dove under the water, heading for the ladder that inched down into the water from the end of the dock. She could only hope that Myka would see her first as she climbed and be able to distract Shaw long enough for her to scramble up and draw her weapon. He was still ranting, his words interwoven with those of his father, as the older man tried to reason with him, tried to plead with him to stop what he was doing.
She again surfaced, this time a few feet from the dock, the weather-worn wood of the ladder directly in front of her. Her hands had already lost the heat of the flames and she had to peer into the darkness and watch her fingers wrap around the middle rung. She held on tightly and swung her feet up, pulling as she braced against the bottom of the ladder. John Michael's voice had grown louder, "Among all creatures that breathe on earth and crawl on it there is not anywhere a thing more dismal than man is."
As Helena's head emerged over the edge of the dock, she could see Myka's face and she watched as Myka attempted to control her expression, suppressing the shock of seeing Helena appear out of the water and the flames. Fortunately, the younger Shaw was still so intent on his obscenely cobbled sermon that he did not notice Myka's swift glances behind him. Helena met her eyes and even across the distance between them, she could see the fear in Myka's face. She inched slowly up the ladder, her frozen hands and feet more hindrance than aid as she clutched at the wood, her clothes clinging to her like a shell of fabric and ice.
She was just reaching for the gun tucked into her waistband when John Michael's voice changed, growing softer and less strident, almost affectionate, "Ah, Helena. I knew that you wouldn't disappoint us. I had no doubt that you would journey into the very depths of hell to rescue your lovely girlfriend. After all, that is what love does, doesn't it? Defends, protects, never falters, even in the face of certain destruction? Isn't that right, Father? Isn't that what you were supposed to do for me? Defend me? Save me from those enemies bent on destroying me?"
Helena stopped moving, nearly stopped breathing, her hands wrapped like claws around the tops of the ladder posts, her eyes as wide and shocked as Myka's were. The younger Shaw didn't turn to face her, however, his gaze locked with his father's, his face contorted with rage.
"John Michael. Son. I did defend you. I did love you. I do love you. I tried to make you understand," Reverend Shaw's voice was hoarse and pleading as he attempted to explain, his words cut short by the harsh laugh from John Michael.
"I'm disappointed in you, John Michael. I expect more from you. You've upset your mother a great deal. You should have made better choices. John Michael. You should have chosen better friends, John Michael .aren't those your words, Dad? Aren't those the things you said to me? That's defending? That's love?" John Michael demanded, his mouth twisted in a demonic grimace.
"What do you think, Helena? Does that sound like unconditional love to you?" John Michael asked, taking a step back so that Helena was in his peripheral vision. The lyre seemed to be vibrating, no doubt feeding off the pain and anger radiating from John Michael.
Helena slowly pulled herself higher, easing one leg up over the top of the ladder and trying to gracefully lever herself onto the dock, no easy task considering she once more couldn't feel her hands or her feet. Myka edged forward a step or two, her lips parted in anticipation of uttering a warning cry, her eyes glued to the soaking wet figure trying to climb onto the end of the short pier.
"Oh, don't worry, Helena. Please, do climb on up. I'm not going to kill you. After all, you're my witness, and what good are the end of days without a witness?" John Michael crooned soothingly, an almost beatific smile on his face.
Helena swung her other leg over the top and scrambled to her feet. The peculiar, fleeting thought that, without any feeling in her legs and feet, she had to look down to make certain she was standing scurried quickly across her brain and then disappeared, like a rabbit down a hole. She succeeded in slipping her hand behind her back and after a brief fumble, grasped the gun tucked into her waistband. She raised her hands in front of her, the gun pointing directly at John Michael.
"Unfortunately, I'm afraid I can't make the same promise about not killing you," Helena replied, her words stuttered by the shivers that wracked her body. The gun moved up and down as her arms trembled, but remained aimed at the man in front of her. "Give me the lyre and let your father and Agent Bering go. Now."
John Michael laughed, the sound echoing into the night, sending a jolt of fear racing through Helena's blood. "Helena. Helena. Why do you insist on making such ridiculous statements? We both know that I could reduce you to a pile of ash with one strum of the strings. Besides, Helen didn't die in the end. She merely stood by and watched as Troy burned and then returned to Greece, laying all the blame at Paris's feet. Now, be good and don't make me ruin the whole story. I hate when someone makes me ruin the ending," John Michael chided, turning finally to face Helena, that same maniacal smile on his lips, one hand hovering over the strings of the lyre.
"I fear your ending has already been reduced to rubble, just like the town you destroyed. I'm not Helen and you aren't the Greeks raining vengeance down upon those who dared to take what was yours. Besides, remember, Achilles died and Odysseus was forced to roam the seas for ten years for allowing his men to drag Cassandra from Athena's temple. Agamemnon was murdered by his queen. You would have done well to choose another story, John Michael, because we all know, this one doesn't end well for anyone. As for Revelations, well, let's just say I doubt you're what John meant when he described the end of days," Helena replied tauntingly, trying her best to keep her voice and her hands steady, watching as Myka moved slowly behind the young man, soundlessly drawing the Tesla from her belt.
John Michael's expression hardened, his eyes glinting dangerously in the amber glow of the surrounding flames. He flexed the fingers hovering over the strings, asking liltingly, "I guess you'll never know for sure, will you, Helena? Sad, really. All you had to do was bear witness and now I'm going to have to kill you."
As his hand moved to touch the strings, a blue surge of energy arced out across the dock.
The Otherside of Shaw's Dock
Whiskeytown Lake, California
Pete shifted from foot to foot, rubbing his gloved hands together, less for warmth than to calm nerves that jangled like electric wire. He had watched Helena disappear under the dark waters of the lake, the surface reflecting back the flames like a rippling mirror. The roar of the fire and the hiss of the steam wafting into the air drowned out any sound he might have heard from the other side of the looking glass. As each minute passed, he felt a deeper sense of dread at having let Helena go after Myka. It was bad enough his partner was trapped with a nut-job; he couldn't even imagine how pissed Myka was going to be at him when this was all over. But after Helena's heartrending plea he just couldn't help it; he'd always been a sucker for true love.
Now all he could do was stand here and helplessly wait. Not his strong suit. He had almost made up his mind to wade out into the lake and follow Helena when the Farnsworth chimed in his pocket. Great, now he was going to have to explain it to Artie as well. He walked back towards the SUV, away from the brightest glow from the fire.
"Yeah, Artie, not a good time," Pete began, leaning against the front hood of the truck. "Can I call you back in, I don't know, a couple hours, days, maybe?"
"What the hell is on fire?!" Artie yelled, his face so close to the screen that all Pete could see was the bulbous end of his nose and the bottoms of his glasses.
"Fire? What fire?" Pete asked nonchalantly, shooting for a look of casual surprise and falling slightly short.
"The massive blaze that I can see in the window of the SUV! Pete, what's going on? Where's Myka?" Artie shouted. Even in black and white, Pete could see that Artie's face was taking on a crimson hue, the screen showing a much darker gray than usual.
"It's not as bad as it looks," Pete explained. "Nothing's really burning. Well, I mean, there are flames, but nothing's on fire. Although, I guess something must be burning. Can a fire feed itself?"
"So, we found the fiddler. Not on a roof, by the way," Pete forced a grin on his face, one that faded quickly under the force of Artie's glower. "He's on a dock and well, he lured his father out here and he's kinda started a fire around them."
"This is the minister's son that Myka told me about?" Artie demanded. "Where is Myka?"
"Yeah, this is the minister's son. And somehow he tricked his dad into coming out here to Whiskeytown Lake to this fishing camp they used to come to when he was a kid. We think he's angry with his father about what happened when he was a senior in high school," Pete responded, dodging, for the moment, the second of Artie's questions.
"I'm assuming from the huge fire that he still has the lyre? And where are Myka and that woman?" Artie was yelling again, his face an even deeper shade of gray.
"Yup. He's still got it," Pete answered.
"PETE! Where are Myka and Helena?" Artie bellowed. Pete could hear Claudia's voice in the background, trying to calm their ranting boss.
"Myka's inside the fire ring thing with the fiddle player and his father," Pete muttered, one eye closed as he waited for the explosion.
"What!?! Then why the hell are you just standing around out there? Have you tried to rescue her?" Artie's face appeared almost black, a sure sign that he had reached an unnatural shade of puce.
"Did I mention it's a ring of fire?? It goes all the way around the dock, even over the water," Pete said tersely. "Helena went to help Myka. She swam out and then was going to try and get under the flames to the dock. That was fifteen minutes ago. I can't see or hear anything on the inside, so I don't know what's happening."
"You let that woman go in to save your partner instead of you?" Artie made no attempt to conceal the outrage and incredulity in his voice.
Pete drew in a deep breath, willing down the surge of anger and irritation he felt with Artie. "She may be my partner, but she's also the woman Helena loves. And believe it or not, Artie, in a spitting contest, that wins."
"Loves? Spare me. That woman doesn't know the first thing about love," Artie responded derisively, contempt dripping from every syllable.
"You know, Artie, I've tried to stay out of this and let Myka handle it, because it isn't any of my business, but I've gotta tell you, you need to get your head out of your ass," Pete said harshly, the muscles in his jaw jumping as he clenched and unclenched it.
"Excuse me?!" Artie demanded belligerently.
"I'm not the one you should be asking to excuse you. You heard me," Pete glowered back. "Do you know I had to physically wrestle Helena to the ground to stop her from running through a raging fire to get to Myka? After I finally got her pinned down, she told me that either she saved Myka or she died with her, that there weren't any other choices for her. Then she stripped off her coat and her boots, walked out into a frozen mountain lake and dived under a ring of flames to try and save Myka and an old man from a lunatic. I don't know what you call love, Artie, but that definitely makes it in my book. Now, if you don't mind, I'm going to go see if there's anything I can do to help them."
Pete's words were met with silence from the other end of the line. At length, Artie sighed. When he spoke, his voice was subdued, holding just a trace of regret. "Call me when you have some new information."
"Yeah. I will," Pete replied, closing the Farnsworth and staring at the unchanging, unending circle of flames.
Whiskeytown Lake, California
The energy pulse from the Tesla caught John Michael squarely in the back. His body twitched and convulsed as Myka kept her finger on the trigger, the current surging through him like lightening through metal until he collapsed to the weathered wood of the dock. Reverend Shaw cried out, calling his son's name and rushing forward, dropping to his knees at John Michael's side.
Helena stood, limbs recalcitrant and slow, as Myka crossed to the fallen man's side as well, drawing a purple glove from her pocket and bending to wrest the lyre from the young man's grip. He moaned softly, hands grasping fruitlessly for the instrument. His father ran a hand over his son's brow, brushing back the thick fall of black hair that lay across his forehead. Reverend Shaw looked up and met Myka's eyes, sorrow and regret etched in every line of his face.
"I tried to be a good father. I tried to live my faith and teach my son right from wrong, teach him to follow the teachings of our church. Instead, I failed him when he needed me most. I should have tried harder to find him. I should have done everything I could. This is my fault. This is all my fault," Reverend Shaw grieved, the tears tracking down his cheeks reflected in the still brightly burning flames around them.
"It isn't your fault," Myka tried to reassure him, her gaze fixed on Helena's sluggish movement towards them, her motion slowed by her wet clothes and the shivering that shook her body. "The lyre feeds on anger, feeds on negative emotions. Once he found it, there was nothing anyone could have done."
"He's my son. My responsibility. How can I face my parishioners, face the people of the town? How can I possibly make amends for this? And how can I help him now?" Reverend Shaw asked hopelessly, his hand still moving tenderly through John Michael's hair.
"By loving him," Myka answered gently, meeting Helena's eyes as she spoke. "Sometimes that's the only thing you can do. Just love him."
As Helena listened to Myka's words, she felt as if she were standing on a vast field of ice, paralyzed, unable to save herself from the millions of tiny fissures spreading out in all directions, fissures mirrored by the ones inside her, rifts and crevices that ran deep into her soul, all shattering with terrifying speed. She forced her lips to move, forced herself to speak, reaching around to tuck the gun back in her waistband.
"Myka, give me the lyre. I'll see if I can figure out how to play the flames down," she said urgently, holding out a shaking hand to take the instrument.
Myka seemed to hesitate, her eyes searching Helena's face for the source of the odd tone in the older woman's voice. She stepped closer to Helena, pulling another set of purple gloves from her pocket. She tenderly lifted Helena's hands and helped her slip the gloves on, her eyes growing wide as she felt just how cold Helena's skin was. "We've got to get you somewhere warm soon, or you'll end up with frostbite."
"Give me the lyre and I'll see what I can do, all right?" Helena replied, attempting to keep her voice steady.
John Michael groaned again, this time louder, his eyes fluttering as he tried desperately to open them. He pushed his father's hand away, rolling onto his side to try and sit up. Reverend Shaw slipped an arm under his son and tugged him upright, John Michael's body sagging weakly against him.
"Myka! Hurry!" Helena urged, once more reaching for the lyre.
"Helena, you can barely hold the gun. Are you sure you can play this thing?" Myka asked solicitously. "Maybe I should try it?"
"Have you ever played a lyre before?" Helena inquired, a faint trace of her usual confidence rearing its head.
"No, but I take it you have?" Myka answered, sighing as she gingerly handed Helena the instrument, making certain that Helena's less than cooperative fingers were wrapped around it before letting go.
Helena felt the surge of energy course through her as the lyre responded to all the disquieting emotions buried just under the surface of her mind. She closed her eyes, willing away the seductive whisper of the artifact as it sought out the pieces of her psyche that still dreamt of blood and the strangled screams of tortured men, the pieces she had tried for so long to hide away in some dark recess of her soul.
Myka's voice pulled her back to reality. "Helena? Are you all right?"
"Yes. Just trying to remember the notes John Michael played at the camp, when he doused the flames," Helena lied, although that wasn't such a bad idea. Searching her memory, she recalled the low notes, major chords, not minor, that had reduced the fire to embers.
As she plucked the first strings, John Michael cried out, pushing his father away and struggling to get to his feet. "Give me that!!" He fell back to the hard wood of the dock, his face contorted with rage. His father reached out to touch his shoulder, but John Michael slapped the hand away.
"See if you can get the flames out and then Pete can help us get him out of here," Myka murmured, standing close to Helena as the other woman tentatively ran the tips of her fingers across the strings.
"Easier said than done, I'm afraid," Helena muttered back, grimacing as the last chord she played sent the flames rising higher against the star-laden sky. Behind her, leaning back on his elbows, John Michael began to laugh.
"It took me months to master the flames. You'll never figure it out," he crowed, his eyes no longer as clouded by the Tesla blast as moments before, his mind no longer as bewitched by the lyre.
"Yes, well, I have a much better motivation for figuring it out," Helena told him, glancing up from the strings to Myka's lovely face. "Besides, I'm H.G. Wells. If I can invent a time machine, I can certainly figure out how to play a miniature harp."
As the meaning of her words sank in, Shaw's laughter ceased and his expression became pensive. "A time machine would be nice, wouldn't it, Dad?"
Reverend Shaw didn't answer, the bleakness in his eyes all the response his son needed. He reached out to pull John Michael to his feet. For a moment, the young man merely stared at the proffered hand blankly, as if assessing the sincerity of the offer. Finally, he took it, standing unsteadily. He held onto his father's hand for a moment, slowly shaking his head as if in answer to an unspoken question. He smiled, a shy, boyish smile that completely altered his face, and Helena could see clearly the child he had been, the child that still hid in the teeming jungle of rage and thwarted dreams in John Michael's mind.
The effects of the lyre had diminished enough for what had once been simply an angry, troubled young man to begin to re-emerge. "And the false prophet that worked miracles before him was cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone."
"John, I don't understand. What do you mean? That's not the quote," Reverend Shaw said querulously, heavy brows furrowed in confusion.
"Well, the beast has been captured, but the false prophet remains. It's time he met his just reward. It really is the end of days after all, Helena. Mine. Goodbye, Dad," John Michael said gently, squeezing his father's hand. Suddenly he turned and before Myka or Helena could stop him, he ran down the dock, the echo of his steps resonating off the surrounding hills. He looked back once, a smile on his lips and then leapt into the air at the end of the pier, disappearing into the flames and the darkness.
"NO!! John Michael! John!" Reverend Shaw cried out, taking a few steps to follow his son before collapsing to his knees.
Myka hurried over, sliding an arm around the old man's shoulders and drawing him to his feet. She murmured soft words of comfort, guiding him back along the dock to where Helena stood, staring at the spot where the young man had vanished.
"We need to get him out of here," she told Helena urgently.
Helena tore her eyes away from the flames and met Myka's concerned gaze. "Yes, I know. I think I have it now."
Strumming lightly, she played a soothing tune, bright major chords that lilted into the steam-laden air. Slowly the flames seemed to diminish, the intensity dwindling until the circle of fire had dissipated into air and water. She motioned Myka to lead the way, the younger woman's arm still supporting the stooped figure of Reverend Shaw.
"In front of me, Eurydice, where I can see you. Unlike the doomed bard, I shall not be so easily tricked, Hades," Helena whispered, the lyre hanging limply by her side as she followed Myka, the silence of the night drowned out by another sound inside her head, as sudden and insidious as the lulling voice of the lyre.
With each step Helena took, the sound came, the one that drew from the very core of her some primordial response, a terror like nothing she had ever known, before or since. Mournful and agonized, it crept toward her, around her, till she felt it in her bones. The sound of ice cracking beneath her feet.
She looked down, expecting to see a field of ice, to see a fissure opening up but there was nothing, merely the grayish, sun-bleached wood of the pier. Only the sound was tangible, coming from everywhere at once and from nowhere at all. Myka had reached the end of the dock, had handed the reverend over to Pete's gentle ministrations. She turned to speak to Helena, hand outstretched to her. Helena couldn't hear her.
After a while Myka's lips stopped moving and Helena became vaguely aware that she was expected to respond. She couldn't. She forced air into her lungs, the cold catching along her windpipe and bringing tears to her eyes. She moved forward cautiously, terrified to move, terrified to tempt that monstrous sound. She smiled grimly at Myka, her mind barely registering the surprise and confusion on her lover's face, and stepped off the dock onto solid ground, cautious of the ice under her feet.
Univille, South Dakota
Helena slouched on the park bench, her coat wrapped tightly around her, gloved hands buried in the depths of pockets, Myka's scarf wound around her neck and chin. Her legs were stretched out in front of her, heels on the slushy sidewalk as she contemplated the tips of her boots. Her gaze moved beyond them, to the shelf of snow left behind by industrious shoveling, and beyond it, an expanse of white that meandered down to a now ice-covered pond.
The snow here was even deeper than it had been in California, strata upon strata of frozen crystals, like the chalky cliffs of Dover, although these layers were far more transient and ephemeral, at least to her. Who knows, perhaps to the good Reverend Shaw's God, Dover was as brief and fleeting as this bank of snow. She found the thought strangely comforting.
They'd been back from California for two days. Two days of reports and less than gentle questioning by Artie. Two days of crushing guilt every time Myka touched her or smiled that sweet, understanding smile. Two days of forced bravado for Pete and Claudia, of pretending that everything was fine. Pete hadn't mentioned what happened after she and Myka had emerged from the still smoky circle surrounding the dock, Myka supporting the minister and Helena clutching the lyre. He hadn't asked her to explain, but she had caught him looking at her oddly, turned and found his gaze on her, a little too sharp, a little too guarded.
And even now, she doubted that she could have found the words to answer that probing look, to explain why he had had to wrench the lyre from her grasp, forcibly prying her glove-clad fingers from their terrified grip, her eyes dark and wild with fear; fear and something else, something she still didn't want to name.
Myka had been settling the distraught minister in the truck, but she had turned at the note in Pete's voice, at the strident "no" that rang from Helena's lips. Myka had crossed to where the two stood, Helena clutching the lyre, Pete attempting to pry it from her grasp. Myka's brows were lowered in concern and she'd stepped close to Helena, wrapping her hands around Helena's upper arm and leaning her forehead against Helena's cheek, her breath warm against her skin.
"Let go, baby. It's okay, you can let go now," Myka had murmured softly, her lips grazing Helena's cheek as she spoke.
As the words had seeped into her brain, rising above the mournful groan of the ice that swelled within her, above the insidious, treacherous whisper of the lyre, she'd slowly swiveled her head and met Myka's eyes. In the beams of the headlights, she hadn't been able to see the green, hadn't been able to see Myka's expression. Her eyes had been like pieces of glass, mirrors reflecting back Helena's image in miniature, reflecting back a small, frightened woman teetering on the edge of madness.
She had let go of the lyre.
As she did, the world had returned with a rush, all of her senses, which had been overwhelmed by the power of the lyre, suddenly alive again. She had heard the lap of the lake against the shore, heard the hum of the truck's engine and the hiss of warm breath into frosty air. Tilting back her head, she had seen the myriad stars, her mind naming the constellations, seeking out Orpheus' lyre which graced the sky above the great swan, Cygnus. The feel of Myka's hands around her arm and the warmth of her body pressed against her side had reminded her fractured mind that she was still wet and freezing, as a trembling wave of shivers wracked her frame.
She didn't remember much about the trip back to the Campbells, just brief snatches of conversation as she huddled in the back of the SUV, her coat and Myka's wrapped around her, Myka's arms holding her tightly, trying without success to ease the shivering as the heat poured out of the vents. They'd left Reverend Shaw in the caring hands of his parishioners with as simple an explanation as possible. What the old man decided to share with them would be up to him. They had made no effort to search the lake for John Michael. The water might not have been burning with brimstone, but the agents had no doubt that the lake had swallowed up the young man, carried him down as it washed away all his sins.
Helena knew all about sins. Knew all about the crippling need for redemption. Sitting on the bench, the blustery South Dakota wind buffeting her, sending snow swirling across the frozen ground like a sandstorm in the desert, she knew that it was time for her to find some atonement; time for her to make that sacrifice. There was no burning lake in which to sink, but there was one thing that she could do, one way she could save Myka from falling into the abyss inside her, the gaping hole left behind as every fracture and fission shattered.
She could leave.
Leena's Bed and Breakfast, Univille, South Dakota
Myka paced the room, a mantle of unease and worry stooping her shoulders. Her bottom lip was sore and raw between her teeth, but she could not seem to break the habit, the sting of pain a now familiar companion. She kept glancing at the clock on the nightstand, the changing of minutes seeming more akin to hours as she crossed from the bed to the door and back again: one, two, three, four, five, turn. One, two, three, four, five, turn. Each creak of the floorboards, each muted thud as a branch from the huge fir outside her window was blown against the house brought with it a stutter to her heartbeat. Helena had left for town over an hour ago, purportedly to run a few errands, but there had been something in her eyes, a bleakness, an emptiness that had frightened Myka.
Not that the feeling was anything new. Since they'd left for California she had watched, helplessly, as Helena seemed to break apart before her eyes. Myka had realized, months ago, when Helena first told her and Pete that the bronzing left one conscious but immobile, that there was no way that anyone, no matter how brilliant or strong of character, could survive a hundred years encased in bronze undamaged. And each ensuing conversation, each moment that Myka spent with Helena had left her no doubt that the older woman was struggling to come to terms with her life and the Faustian bargain she had struck with the Regents. She had gotten her time machine, but at what cost? Christina was still dead. Everyone Helena knew and loved was dead and there was nothing that a hundred years or a thousand could change. Helena was alone.
Had been alone. Part of Myka wondered sometimes if being alone might have been the only way to ensure that the cracks that ran deep in Helena's psyche did not widen and shatter, wondered if loving her had, in some ironic way, broken Helena in a way that nothing else ever could. Myka knew that Helena was wracked with guilt, guilt about Christina's death, guilt about being happy, about being in love, about being alive. Still, she had seemed to be slowly coming to terms with it, coming to terms with being happy. Until this case.
John Michael Shaw's constant comparison to the doomed Helen had flown like an arrow to its mark, slicing into Helena's wounded soul. It was a fast acting poison, altering the vibrant, beautiful woman she loved into a walking shell, her eyes dull and clouded. But it was the lyre that had dealt the final blow. Myka had known, standing there on that dock, the flames rising high into the sky all around them, that she shouldn't give Helena the lyre. Even with the dampening gloves, the artifact was too strong and Helena too weak to resist its pull, and yet, there were few other options. Plus, refusing would have meant that she didn't trust Helena and that was one thing Myka simply could not do, could not say, regardless of the cost.
And the cost had been high. Perhaps too high for either of them to pay.
Myka forced herself to sit, balancing on the edge of her mattress, one knee jangling up and down. She tasted the coppery tang of blood on the tip of her tongue as her teeth sawed a little deeper into the wound on her lip. At least that pain was tangible, explainable: she bit and it bled. Simple. Manageable. Not like the churning in her stomach and the flutter in her chest, the sense of dread and panic that had overtaken her these past few days every time she looked at Helena. And she looked at Helena all the time: protectively, lovingly, desperately. She felt as she had as a child at the beach, having constructed the most magnificent of sandcastles, only to watch with a paralytic horror as the waves inched closer and closer, eating away at the base of her palace, until with one spectacular crash of water, her citadel had crumpled and washed away.
A voice from the doorway broke through her reverie. "Hello, darling." Helena's face was pale and wan, her eyes shadowed by faint purple circles.
"Hey," Myka replied, forcing a brightness into her tone that she didn't feel. "I was beginning to wonder where you went."
"I'm sorry, love. I didn't mean to worry you," Helena apologized in a weary voice. "I ran my errands and then I sat in the park for a bit. It's quite lovely there. Very peaceful."
"Helena, it's about nineteen degrees outside. You're going to end up with pneumonia," Myka chided, rising and crossing to Helena's side, her hands automatically reaching out to pull Helena to her. Usually Helena came willingly, but now she pulled back, a pained expression on her face.
Helena's grim smile held little mirth. "Come now, darling, after that dip in the lake, the temperature here seems almost balmy."
Helena folded her arms across her chest and stepped over to the bookshelf, her back to Myka as her gaze wandered aimlessly along the varied tomes. A heavy silence settled between them and the dread that had been circling Myka with all the coiled violence of a cobra at last struck, fangs sinking deep into her skin and holding fast. When Helena finally spoke, all Myka could do was stand immobilized and mute.
"I've been trying to to find the right words. Trying to find the words to make you understand," Helena said, her voice low and husky. "I need for you to listen, all right? To let me say this?"
Myka opened her mouth to reply, but only a sigh escaped. Her head nodded jerkily as she bit down hard on her tender lip, welcoming the distracting pain.
As Helena began to speak, a tear slowly edged its way down her cheek, falling soundlessly to the light blue of her shirt, followed by another and another, a slow, steady deluge that left a pattern of dark stains. "There is no easy way to say this, no magic to alter it into something either of us can bear. But I must say it, I must explain and we both will have to try and find a way to bear it. I need to go away, darling. I don't know for how long, but I need to go. Please don't mistake me, Myka: I love you to the very marrow of my bones. You are woven inside me. You're the thread that has been holding together all the torn and ragged pieces of my soul but you cannot do it forever, my love. I will become little more than your patient, not your partner. We both know that I have become an emotional invalid, incapable of giving you back in equal measure all the support and companionship you deserve.
"Leaving is the one way I can truly show you the depth of my love, by not asking you to bear the burden of who I am right now. I beg you to understand, to know that what I must do is done in hope that I will return as one healed, one capable of being for you all that you deserve. It is not your responsibility to patch together all the broken bits of my psyche; that is something I must do myself if I am to ever have any hope of being whole again. I can't ask you to wait for me. I can only ask that you remember always how much I love you and try to forgive me for what must seem a cowardly act."
Myka stood unmoving, watching with an odd sense of detachment as Helena continued to cry, the tears running over high cheekbones like a dozen shallow streams, an occasional sob shaking her slender shoulders. For a few moments, she knew what Claudia's computer felt right before it crashed, as an overload of thoughts and arguments and emotions set off a fatal cascade in her mind. She was standing in the center of a tornado, staring up as every one of her hopes and dreams were torn away and she was powerless to stop it.
Or was she?
"Bullshit!" The words were expelled with the force of a gunshot, echoing in the air between them. "Bullshit, Helena."
Helena's mouth dropped open in surprise, her dumbfounded expression soon morphing into one of regret and anguish. "What? No, Myka, I ," she began, only to be abruptly brought up short as Myka stepped towards her, her eyes hard and unwavering.
"No, you don't get to talk now. You had a chance to say what you needed to say; now it's my turn," Myka said roughly, using the difference in their height to stare down at Helena unrelentingly. "And you're going to stand there and listen."
Myka spun and stalked across the room, each step serving to increase the pent up fury that had been ignited by Helena's statement. Helena was as good as her word, standing stock still, the tears continuing to run silently down her face. Myka stopped finally, her green eyes blazing. "You don't get to make that decision, Helena. You don't get to be a martyr. You don't get to decide what's good for me or bad for me or what I deserve or don't deserve! And you don't get to make unilateral decisions for us, just because you're scared or insecure or whatever the hell it is that you're feeling, which I don't know, because you've stopped talking to me and I practically have to drag every word out of you," she ranted, her voice rising as she gathered steam.
"Myka ," Helena said contritely, only to be silenced by a finger jabbing at her shoulder.
"No, Helena. You had your say. You're going to listen to me, just like I listened to you," Myka told her firmly, trying to keep the anger out of her voice. She took a deep breath and then another. When she spoke again, her voice was gentle and loving. "I love you. Not some imaginary, perfect you that I conjured up. You, Helena Wells. You, with all your flaws and faults and rage and guilt and sadness. I love the you that loves your child so much that you were willing to be bronzed because you didn't know how to live without her. I love the you that is so overcome with guilt because you've found some happiness and you don't think you deserve it. I love the you that watches over me when I'm sleeping. The you that makes me feel things no one has ever come close to making me feel. I love the you that swam out into a frozen lake to rescue me from a crazy arsonist because living without me wasn't an option.
"I love you: fractured and frightened and falling apart. And you don't get to tell me that isn't enough. That you aren't enough for me. You're not an emotional invalid, Helena. You spent a hundred fucking years locked inside your own brilliant, dangerous mind and it's going to take time and patience and love for you to recover from that. But guess what? Those are three things we have. I know who you are, Helena. What you are," Myka told her, making no effort to brush away the tears that were rolling down her own cheeks.
"No, you don't," Helena sobbed, burying her face in her hands. "You don't know the things I've done. Who I really am."
Myka closed the space between them and drew Helena carefully into her arms. She whispered tenderly, one hand smoothing through thick, silken black hair, "Yes, I do. I read the file, Helena, the one the Regents have on you. I know what you did. I know what happened to the men who killed Christina. I know about your partner's death. But more than anything, I know the woman who would willingly die for me, or for Pete or Claudia or even Artie. And no matter what else she's done, that's the woman I love."
"You deserve more, Myka. You deserve someone good, someone strong, someone ," Helena protested, her voice muffled as she sobbed into Myka's shoulder.
"Helena Wells, you are the strongest person I have ever known. You've survived things that would have destroyed most people and you are good and brave and beautiful and there is nothing that you could ever say or do that would change my mind," Myka pronounced quietly, her lips pressed to the fine hairs along Helena's temple. "Nothing. We're together. I love you, you love me. So, no, you don't get to leave. Whatever happens, whatever needs to be done or fixed, we do it together. Okay?"
Helena didn't speak, merely nodded her head as a fresh wave of sobs overtook her. Myka slipped her fingers under Helena's chin and tilted her head back. Helena's eyes were closed, tears clinging to thick lashes. "Helena? Look at me," Myka urged, her voice full of love.
Helena drew in a few shuddering breaths and opened her eyes, the irises as black as her pupils. "Okay?" Myka asked again, needing to hear Helena say 'yes', say anything.
"Okay," Helena breathed, her voice hoarse and thick with emotion. "I wasn't trying to be a martyr. I wasn't trying to make decisions for you. I just I didn't know what else to do. I'm such a bloody mess and I feel so guilty about so many things and sometimes when you look at me like you are right now, with so much love and understanding, it's all I can do to keep my head above water, because I know I don't deserve it. Don't deserve you."
"Oh, baby, I know you weren't trying to be a martyr. I'm sorry I said that. I was just so angry at you for believing that walking away was the only choice," Myka replied contritely. "It isn't. And you do deserve me. You deserve love and happiness and one of these days, you're going to believe it, if it kills both of us."
Helena gave a half chuckle, the small smile on her lips one of the loveliest things Myka had seen in a long time. "Knowing us, it no doubt will involve some sort of bloodshed."
"Probably," Myka agreed, taking Helena's hand and leading her to the bed. She sat down on the mattress, inching up to rest against the headboard, and tugged at Helena, urging her to join her. After a moment's hesitation, Helena climbed up, crawling on her hands and knees until she was able to settle across Myka's lap. Myka had seen Helena move like that many times, usually naked and with a predatory look in her dark eyes, but today, there was only doubt and guilt and a faint glimmering of hope.
"I do need to go somewhere," Helena said hesitantly, as if unsure of Myka's response. "You could go with me."
The lilt at the end of the sentence made it seem more question than statement and the hand wrapped around Myka's heart at the obvious pain Helena was in squeezed a little tighter.
"I will go with you, wherever you need me to go," Myka said tenderly, pressing her lips to the smooth skin of Helena's forehead. "I love you."
"I know. I really do know," Helena answered, tilting her head back to meet Myka's gaze. There was a calm in Helena's eyes that Myka had never seen before. The fear was still there and the guilt, but the doubt was gone. "I love you, too, my darling. I love you, too."
Helena leaned her head against Myka's shoulder, one arm snaking down between Myka's back and the pillows to wrap securely around her waist. A little of the tension seemed to go out of her body and Myka could feel the muscles under her hand relax. They sat in silence, this one less fraught with apprehension, as the last of the winter's rays slid across the wood floor, pale streaks of gold against the dark pine. Myka waited, knowing that, when she was ready, Helena would tell her where she needed to travel.
She also knew that, as Helena had said, there was no magic to make this all better. The woman now resting safely in her arms was still fractured, still riddled with guilt and sideswiped by rage at the injustice of the world, but she was not broken, not completely. And if Myka Bering had anything to do with it, she never would be.
Return to Warehouse 13 Fiction
Return to Main Page